The Headphone List Find the best portable audio for your needs Thu, 22 Aug 2019 16:19:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Headphone List 32 32 Han Sound Audio 8-wire Aegis – A Concerto of the Heart Thu, 22 Aug 2019 05:38:24 +0000 DISCLAIMER: I purchased the 8-wire Aegis at MSRP from Music Sanctuary (Han Sound Audio’s official Singaporean dealer). I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Music Sanctuary and Han Sound Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Han Sound Audio is a Taiwanese cable manufacturer who’ve risen through the ranks over the past few years, becoming one of the industry’s most exciting competitors. Making their mark with value picks like the Zen and Muse, then higher-end offerings like the Venom and Kimera, and reprisals like the Agni II, Muse II and Zentoo, Han Sound have continually excelled in both sound and build quality. Today, we’ll be taking a look at what I consider one of their most underrated releases: The Aegis cable – which I reviewed and adored last year – in 8-wire form. With twice the wire count, see why it’s become one of my go-to picks for a rich, warm sound without compromise in definition, transparency and spaciousness.

Han Sound Audio 8-wire Aegis

  • Wire composition: 23 AWG OCC silver-gold alloy & OCC Litz copper
  • Default configuration: 8-wire
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Fully bespoke design; DuPont Kevlar core
  • Price: S$899
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The Aegis comes in Han Sound’s customary black box with the company logo sparklingly embossed on top. It’s a sleek, minimalistic look that exudes premium through texture and feel. Under the lid is a round sheet of foam sealing the box’s circular cut-out closed, so the cable remains stationary and cushioned during transport. Furthermore, the interior of the box is lined with a dense foam as well. Inside is the cable itself tied two ways. First, you have a plastic clip, which you can safely bend to release. Then, you also have the included leather cable tie with Han Sound Audio engraved across. Overall, I think it’s a well-thought-out, well-executed package that pulls off minimalistic without feeling understocked or lacking.

In terms of look, consistency and feel, this Aegis truly strikes excellence. Han Sound’s braids continue to be the absolute tightest, most precise and most consistent I’ve ever encountered. So, unlike some other cables I’ve previously reviewed, the 8-wire Aegis has a very slim chance of loosening or unravelling over time. I continue to be a fan of the Aegis’s coffee-brown wires. It’s got an aged look to it, which exudes maturity. And, it aptly reflects the cable’s signature quite well too. Ergonomically, having 8 wires, this Aegis certainly isn’t the lightest I’ve ever used. Nevertheless, Han Sound’s insulation is as smooth, supple and memory-free as ever. So, despite the extra girth and heft, it’s a cable that never gets in the way.

I also continue to be a fan of Han Sound Audio’s mostly in-house hardware. The only component they’ve outsourced is the Furutech plug (though, this may not be true with their most recent line of cables sporting the company’s new plug). Regardless, Han Sound have done an excellent job matching the rest of the componentry to the metallic aesthetic of the plug for a sleek, uniform look throughout the cable. The 2-pin connectors are solid and have a nice grip to them, which makes cable-rolling easy. The Y-split is visually striking, especially with the Han Sound logo engraved on top. As it was on the 4-wire Aegis, all of the components feel dense and robust, which’ll serve dividends in the cable’s longevity over time.

The only knock I’d have towards ergonomics would probably be the weight of the Y-split. It’s larger here than on the 4-wire Aegis, which makes this 8-wire variant even heavier. Combined with the absence of pre-formed heat shrink on the 2-pin connector, it can make inserting IEMs in the ear cumbersome at times. The combined weight of the Y-split and the cable can pull them down when you’re trying to wrap them over the ear. But, once the IEMs are inserted, weight never becomes an issue for me. Plus, I enjoy cables without heat shrink, because of how it can harden and discolour over time. So, as long as you can deal with a bit of effort getting the IEMs in your ear, this Aegis is a pretty hassle-free cable to use.

]]> 0 The Face of Experience – A Review of the iBasso DX220 Sun, 18 Aug 2019 21:01:31 +0000 ::Disclaimer::
iBasso provided the DX220 free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The DX220 sells for $899, AMP8 for $199, and AMP9 for $250.
iBasso on Amazon

– Dual SABRE ES9028PRO DAC Chips.
– Bit for Bit Playback With Support up to 32bit/384kHz.
– Support of Native DSD up to 512x.
– 5.0″ IPS Full Screen (1080*1920), With On Cell Capacitive Touch Panel.
– Corning Glass on The Front Screen And Rear Panel.
– Support of QC3.0, PD2.0, & MTK PE Plus Quick Charge.
– XMOS USB Receiver With Thesycon USB Audio Driver, Ma king This an Easy to Use USB DAC.
– A Total of 5pcs of Femtosecond League Oscillators, With 2 of Them Being Accusilicon Ultra Low Phase Noise Femt osecond Oscillators.
– 8-core CPU.
– Mini Optical Output And Mini Coaxial Output.
– 4GB LPDDR3 – 64G of Internal Memory.
– 5G WiFi And Bluetooth 5.0.
– Support SDXC And SDHC Micro SD Cards.
– Three Settings of Gain Control.
– Patented User Exchangeable AMP Cards.
– 150-Step Digital Volume Control.
– Audio Formats Supported: MQA, APE, FLAC,WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF and DXD.
– Support for M3U Playlists.
– 4400mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer Battery (Playtime Will Vary With AMP Cards Used)

2.5mm Headphone Out :
Output Level : 6.2Vrms
Frequency Response : 10Hz~45kHz +/-0.3dB
S/N : 125dB
THD+N : 0.00018% (no Load, 3Vrms),
0.0002% (32Ω Load, 3Vrms)
Crosstalk : -119dB

3.5mm Headphone Out :
Output Level : 3.1Vrms
Frequency Response : 10Hz~45kHz +/-0.3dB
S/N : 123dB
THD+N : 0.00031% (no Load, 1.8Vrms),
0.00035% (32Ω Load, 1.8Vrms)
Crosstalk : -117dB

Line Out :
Output Level : 3.0Vrms
Frequency Response : 10Hz~45kHz +/- 0.3dB
S/N : 122dB
THD+N : 0.00035% (no Load, 1.8Vrms)
Crosstalk : -116dB

Average Play Time: 8 hours. (The play time varies with different resolutions
and headphone/IEM loads.)

I wasn’t expecting a new flagship DAP from iBasso anytime soon. I wasn’t ready. The DX200 was still my principle player, and I was nowhere near bored with it.

Then I remembered: I got my hands on the DX200 late in the game. It was already an established product with matured firmware when Paul sent me a unit. Grudgingly, I had to accept that maybe it was about due an update.

And “update” is the right word. The fundamental design is much the same, but everything is better, more attractive, of higher quality, and superior tech. The aesthetics are sleeker and less tank-like. The buttons and volume wheel are more elegant. The display is a gorgeous 5” 1080p full screen, and among the nicest I’ve seen in the DAP market. It comes across as flawless. Unlike the screen on the DX200, which looked even lower res than it actually was, with aggressive pixilation and jagged lines. Of course, I never cared a great deal about such things, but I won’t deny, it’s a nice bonus.

The leather case is a bit of a disaster. I had to make liberal cuts to the bottom opening to be able to use wide barrel balanced cables of the sort plusSound employs. Otherwise you can’t get them to plug in all the way. Also, getting the case off is more than a little difficult. While it’s good to know the DAP won’t fall out by accident, one doesn’t enjoy the sense of dread every time they wish to slip the player out. All of my usual tricks for doing so don’t seem to work here, and I always resort to brute tactics, which have caused further damage to the leather.

The DX220 is fully loaded, much like its predecessor, with streaming capabilities, Bluetooth, and all that shit I have no interest in. Only it takes this even further. Not only can you connect to a BT headphone, but you can also control the DAP from your smartphone. This is a feature I’ve seen show up in a lot of recent audiophile devices. It may not be for this old dinosaur, but you may consider it a must-have. So rest assured, iBasso has you covered.

I did, however, spend some time with simple Bluetooth. The Bang&Olufsen Beoplay H9 achieved a stable connection to the DX220, and, apart from a hiccup at the beginning, played flawlessly for about an hour. These headphones have really grown on me, of late. I’ve yet to hear a better sounding pair of wireless cans.

]]> 0 FiR Audio’s Accessory Suite – The Headphone VAC Jr., The Cable Tester and Scorpion Cable Fri, 16 Aug 2019 08:22:49 +0000 DISCLAIMER: FiR Audio provided me with The Headphone VAC Jr., The Cable Tester and the Scorpion Cable in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank FiR Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

FiR Audio is an American company that specialize in IEMs and IEM-related accessories. Founded by former 64 Audio CEO Bogdan Belonozhko, they hit the ground running with their Headphone VAC monitor cleaner in 2018. Since then, they’ve debuted several other accessories, as well as their very own line of tubeless custom in-ear monitors. Although the latter are still relatively new to the market, it does paint a clear picture of where the FiR Audio team aim to go. Today though, I’ll be taking a look at FiR Audio’s main stable of accessories, and discussing why they ought to be audiophile must-have’s.

Page 1: The Headphone VAC Jr.
Page 2: The Cable Tester
Page 3: The Scorpion Cable

FiR Audio Headphone VAC Jr.

FiR Audio’s Headphone VAC was designed as a solution towards one of the in-ear monitoring industry’s most common – yet least talked about – issues: Earwax build-up. Cerumen is an essential substance our bodies produce daily, but it also has the potential of clogging your in-ear monitors’ tiny sound bores and causing channel imbalance. Although it’s near-mandatory to include a wax pick with your IEMs nowadays, it’s a rather finicky tool that more-often-than-not either isn’t precise enough for the job, or – worse – ends up pushing the debris deeper. This is where the Headphone VAC comes in.

FiR Audio’s Headphone VAC is self-explanatory. It’s a vacuum which removes all debris from your in-ear monitors’ tiny sound bores. And, it entirely removes the need for you to send your in-ears back to the manufacturer just for cleaning. The unit I have here is the VAC Jr., which is a more compact version of the Headphone VAC. Compared to its sibling, it doesn’t come with a heavy-duty carrying case and its air hose is permanently attached. But, at half the price, the VAC Jr. is the stronger value purchase, especially if you’re mainly using it at home with a modest number of monitors to clean.

Build and Accessories

The Headphone VAC Jr. comes with a slew of accessories for modularity, troubleshooting and maintenance. The vacuum itself feels immensely solid and robust. But, at the same time, its weight isn’t a hindrance, so it’s certainly something you can carry around without difficulty. The chassis is finished in a gloss blue, along with matte-black artwork on top. On the bottom of the device is a dense rubber, which should prevent vibrations from being passed through the VAC; keeping it stationary and ensuring operation is as quiet as possible. Finally, on the business-end of the vacuum is the suction hose, power switch and 12V port. All in all, I believe the device is built wonderfully with zero rattly bits, weak spots or plasticity.

Moving onto the accessories, it truly goes to show how much thought FiR Audio have put into their product. First is the syringe, which is the vacuuming medium. It locks onto the hose attachment by twisting it into place. A rubber gasket is attached to the syringe as well to avoid any sort of leakage. Inside the syringe is a filter which’ll trap the wax and debris coming through the tip – almost resembling cilia in the human nose. Once the filter’s top becomes clogged with wax, the top must be trimmed off so the filter can be reused. This process can be repeated until it reaches a third of its original size. Should that eventually happen, FiR Audio have included two additional filters with the VAC for you to replace it with.

The other accessories come in plastic tubes with screw-on caps. I greatly prefer this over plastic pouches, because you can carry them around without the possibility of the pouch splitting open or something. First, you have a brush to clean the syringe and filters with. You also have a replacement tool to push filters out of the syringe. Tip-wise, you have three options. The first is a stainless steel needle, designed for IEMs with metal or acrylic sound tubes. Then, there’s a bendy, plastic needle for more delicate tubes that the stainless steel one may risk puncturing. Tiny pins are also provided to unclog them if needed. The final needle has a larger diameter designed for 3-5mm bores with mesh wax guards, like 64 Audio’s tia bore. Over the needles, this greatly minimises the risk of pushing wax through the screen when cleaning.

In Use

Once the VAC is assembled, all it needs is power. FiR Audio have provided both two- and three-pronged outlets with its 12V adapter, so all regions are covered. Once powered on, it’s as easy as slowly inserting the tip of the needle into your IEM’s sound bores and sucking away all the debris. It took me no longer than 30 seconds to clean my EarSonics EM64, which has six bores total. The same was true for my 64 Audio A6t, which I cleaned with the larger needle in 20 seconds. Despite the slightly lower flow rate compared to the larger VAC, the VAC Jr. is beyond sufficient for any at-home needs.

During operation, I did notice the VAC slowly moving on my slightly textured floor. The same occurred on my smoother desk. I would perhaps prefer the VAC have rubber feet to keep the device more securely in place. But, it isn’t too big an issue unless you have a very, very tight workspace. In terms of noise, the VAC Jr. is never really an inconvenience, as long as you’re relatively quick about cleaning. And finally, disassembly is as easy as twisting off each component and storing them in their respective tubes. Noise and movement aside, the VAC is a pure breeze to use from start to finish.

vs. Jodi-Vac’s Jodi-Consumer

Prior to the launch of The Headphone VAC, Jodi-Vac’s Jodi-Consumer was the go-to choice for audiophiles. Between the two lie several differences. The Jodi-Consumer and the VAC Jr. have similar MSRPs on their respective websites, but the former is sold at $99.99 on 64 Audio’s website. The VAC Jr. is considerably more modular than the Jodi-Consumer. The latter only comes with one metal needle, while the VAC Jr. comes with three. You can purchase an extra flexible needle for the Jodi-Consumer, but at the moment, they don’t have an option like FiR Audio’s larger tip for single-bore monitors.

FiR Audio include three filters with the VAC Jr., while the Jodi-Consumer only comes with one. Replacing them is simpler to do on the former too. Finally, the VAC Jr. comes with a variety of outlets for its 12V adapter, while the Jodi-Consumer comes with two flat prongs permanently attached. Build-wise, the VAC Jr. feels more robust, durable and heavy. Its form factor is smaller as well. The Jodi-Consumer has a more plasticky chassis that’s lighter. However, it’s also quieter and less prone to movement. In use, I could easily live with both vacuums. The Jodi-Consumer’s lower noise and vibration makes it more convenient, while the VAC Jr.’s ease-of-use and wide range of tips make it more versatile and low-maintenance.

]]> 0 Stealth Sonics U4 – Boom, Boom, Clap! Mon, 12 Aug 2019 04:17:01 +0000 DISCLAIMER: Stealth Sonics loaned me the U4 in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to Stealth Sonics for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Stealth Sonics is a Singaporean in-ear manufacturer that’s been gaining more and more attention the past couple years. Although they probably aren’t the first names you’d think of when you think Singapore, they have been garnering tons of positive responses through artist endorsements, region-wide loaner programs and appearances at CanJam, where I first encountered their brand. Today, I’ll be reviewing their 4-driver universal U4, as well as taking you behind Stealth Sonics’ myriad of in-house technologies that’ve made their monitors as pleasing, musical and technically-proficient as they are.

Stealth Sonics U4

  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 13Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 114dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): IsoStealth, SonicFlo, Stealth Damping, Stealth Kompozit, Klarity Valve
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: $499
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

Stealth Sonics’ packaging is impressively mature; resembling something a seasoned veteran of the trade would put out. The outer sleeve is covered all-round with hi-res images. I’m particularly impressed by the glossy accents they’ve dotted throughout the matte artwork, which wonderfully accents text, as well as sections of photos like the faceplates. It really adds three-dimensionality and dynamism, which tend to be underrated in packaging and presentation. Underneath the sleeve is the main box, which is lined with a gorgeous, silken carbon fibre and the Stealth Sonics logo embossed on top.

Unfolding the box via a magnetic latch, you’re greeted by the in-ear monitors and a carrying case – neatly organised and recessed within foam cut-outs – as well as a Thank You card in a pocket to the side. Next to the in-ears, you have an extra pair of blue, chrome-finished faceplates that you can swap the default ones out for to achieve a different aesthetic. The included zipper case is lined with faux leather; robust, but very light. This makes it more ideal for on-the-go use than the heavier, metallic-infused cases I’ve experienced in the past. And, its size allows it to house at least two pairs of IEMs too.

Inside the case are the included accessories. In total, you get 7 pairs of tips, which include silicone tips, foam tips and bi-flange tips. You also get airline and 1/4″ adapters. In addition to that is an extra cable with an in-line microphone for use with mobile devices. And finally, you also get a microfibre cloth and a smaller soft pouch for light storage of the in-ears. Now this is what I call an accessories package! I absolutely admire Stealth Sonics for going all out here, while others’d typically consider it an afterthought. The competition should take notes, because they’ve knocked it out of the park.

The in-ears themselves are very robustly built. Between the almost-rubber-like shell, the blue inlay and the faceplate, the layers are seamlessly flush with zero wiggle, sharp edges or adhesive traces. Stealth Kompozit makes the shells softer to the touch, which’ll make it more resistant from bumps or scratches. It also congeals to the ear quicker than acrylic does. The U4’s striking, sci-fi aesthetic may not be for everyone. Personally, I think it’s unique in a very good way. Again, if you wish to, you can always swap out the carbon-fibre faceplates for the chrome-finished blue ones with the included tool.

The earpieces sit comfortably and securely in my ears. The smooth, rounded shape allows the U4 to distribute pressure very equally throughout the ear. But, it’s worth keeping in mind that these are rather shallow-fitting in-ears. If you tend to find it difficult to achieve a seal with shallower in-ears, you may have to resort to using the bi-flange tips. But, all in all, Stealth Sonics have excelled when it comes to presentation, accessories and build. Even at this price tier, they’ve packed in a plethora of goodies with stunning attention-to-detail, and I’d love to see nothing more than for others to follow suit.

Stealth Sonics’ Wealth of Tech

On their website and marketing, Stealth Sonics feature a staggering amount of proprietary technologies, which include innovations toward acoustic design and shell durability. Stealth Sonics generously gave me the opportunity to speak to their head engineer about what all this tech was, and how they contributed towards the U4’s. Here’s what he had to say:


Isolation is basically the key thing in sound, especially in lower frequencies. So, if you don’t have isolation, you lose that. You don’t get to enjoy all the lower-end of the spectrum.

So, what we did was, we took an average of people’s ear impressions. This was possible thanks to our sister company, My Ears, who’ve been taking impressions for a very long time. We used those statistics and data to find one standard deviation – which is roughly 67% of the population – and have our product’s size and shape adhere to that.

We especially focused on the outer pinna; the part where the IEM actually goes into the ear and sits on the lobe. We wanted it sealed as much as possible. The data (demographic) that we had were mostly Western with a little bit of Asia as well. So, we designed the shell according to that. The whole idea behind it is if we were able to seal the pinna as much as possible, we would be able to achieve incremental isolation of 10dB, and that’s a lot. 


While IsoStealth takes care of the lower frequencies in terms of isolation, SonicFlo takes care of the higher frequencies. As we all know, the drivers in IEMs pump out sound through tubes. These tubes carry that energy into your eardrums and that turns into sound.

But, if you pump that energy through your average, circular tubes, you don’t get to hear the higher harmonics. Why? It’s because of principles called resonance and cancellation. For example, whenever a sound engineer goes to a concert hall, they try to make sure no surface reflects equally. Because, if they do, one of two things will happen: Resonance or cancellation. You’ll lose out on some of that sound energy.

So, that’s precisely the idea behind SonicFlo. We use asymmetrical sound tubes to pump the air or sound through. Because there’s a lack of reflection now, the higher harmonics – the hi-hats, triangles – don’t get muddied out and disappear, so you do get that feeling of, “Wow, I’m hearing everything.” This will not affect the low frequencies, because the amplitude isn’t big enough. So, the lows won’t be affected by these asymmetrical tubes.

Klarity Valve

The Klarity Valve promises to ease discomfort. How? In our ear, pressure is balanced via our outer ear and the Eustachian tube. Every once in a while, your body will equalise that pressure. Now, when you have an IEM or an earbud in your ear, the drivers are pumping air into your ear, which builds up pressure over time. What the Klarity Valve does is it allows that pressure to escape through the IEM. If there’s ever too much pressure in the ear and it pushes back against the nozzle, the Klarity Valve will release it. So, it eases discomfort and reduces ear fatigue.

Now, let’s talk about why you need a large nozzle. Air, like water, is a fluid. Imagine a gardening hose. If you reduce the cross-sectional area of the gardening hose and you maintain the same amount of pressure pushing the water out, the velocity of the water shooting out of the hose will increase. Suddenly, the water has more power and impact, and it carries enough energy to even be considered damaging. So, even though the material conveyed is the same, the speed of the fluid is different. This is Bernoulli’s theorem.

The same applies to IEMs. If I were to listen to something via a smaller nozzle and a bigger nozzle, the information will still be the same; you’ll still hear the sound. However, the smaller nozzle will deliver it at a higher velocity for the same given amount of drivers and air being displaced. So, it impacts your eardrum at a much higher velocity than the larger nozzle. Because we don’t want the sound to impact the eardrum in a damaging way, we’ve made the nozzle of the U2, the U4 and the U9 quite pronounced compared to the other brands. It’s almost three times the size.

Stealth Damping

Stealth Damping allows us to give you crispier bass. How does that happen? On the faceplate of the universal, you’ll see something that looks like a turbine with a brass tip. Now, really, it’s only the weight of that thing that’s important; the turbine is just for design.

What it does is this: Think of a bass signal on an oscilloscope; let’s say the drummer hits the bass drum. What you’ll see is a spike, then you’ll have a trail; a decay trail. Now, assume that decay doesn’t decay as quickly as you want. What happens is that trail will build, and it’ll accumulate into what we call boominess. Because of that, you begin to lose all the other frequencies; the boominess masks them and takes over.

So, by adding a weight – that we’ve specifically measured (with a bit of tolerance) – to the IEM, the weight is allowed to absorb only the low-frequency sounds. It’s mechanical in nature. This allows the bass response to decay very quickly. When that happens, you hear a more crisp, clear bass, which also allows you to push it even further without diluting the other frequencies at the same time. 

Stealth Kompozit

If you look at our shell and feel the material that makes contact with the ear, you’ll find a rather strange material that isn’t used in the market really. It’s soft, yet resilient; solid. This is a nanocoat that we’ve employed from the audiology industry. The audiology industry had developed this for older people, because they have to wear their hearing aids for a very long time; 8 to 10 hours. So, comfort was very important, and we brought this over to our IEMs.

That comes default with our universals. For our customs, we give options. We can finish them in a variety of materials. For example, we can finish the customs in medical-grade silicone, which is softer. We can also finish them in acrylic. We can finish them in plastic too. So, there’s no standard when it comes to customs. It’s all up to the user’s requests.

]]> 0 A First Look: 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir Wed, 31 Jul 2019 19:29:00 +0000 DISCLAIMER: 64 Audio provided me with the tia Fourté Noir in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank 64 Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

64 Audio is a bonafide industry juggernaut; a brand renowned by artists and enthusiasts across the globe for marvellous performance and constant innovation. Their apex pressure-relief system and open-faced tia drivers are key contributors to their successes, and this was realised to the fullest in their groundbreaking flagship piece; the tia Fourté: A four-driver, fully-tubeless monitor revered for its vastness, air and resolution. This year, on the company’s 9th anniversary, 64 Audio have decided to revisit their top-of-the-line with a renewed sonic philosophy. Enter: The Fourté Noir – a limited edition variant armed with richer lows, smoother highs, and a more life-like listening experience; 64 Audio’s new gold standard.

64 Audio tia Fourté Noir

  • Driver count: Three balanced-armature drivers and one dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 10Ω @ 1kHz
    Sensitivity: 114dB @ 1kHz @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): apex pressure-relief system, tia drivers, a fully-tubeless design
  • Available form factor(s): Universal aluminium IEMs
  • Price: $3799
  • Website:

Sound Impressions

The following was written with the included silicone tips in Medium, with less than 50 hours of run-in by my estimations. The full review will cover tip pairings more closely, and at a much higher play time too.

64 Audio’s Fourté Noir delivers a musical play on neutral – engaging the listener with an immersive, spacious and robust soundscape, whilst maintaining a sense of balance at the same time. As the original did, the Noir soars when it comes to clarity and air. There’s an openness to its voicing that comes across impressively pristine. At the same time, it’s executed with greater sophistication. Width is marvellous on the Noir, but instruments maintain a degree of intimacy to not sound detached or distant. And, the retuned DD brings a welcome touch of wetness too; organic and wholesome. So, while the Noir isn’t quite as surgical as the original, its technique remains top-flight, now paired with a more natural, life-like tone.

The Noir’s low-end is lightly sub-bass-biased before settling into linearity throughout the mid- and upper-bass. This gives a relatively quick, clean attack, as well as the ability to resolve the textures and nuances within. Nevertheless, the rise up until 100Hz gives those lows a healthy amount of heft, so kick drums have a weighted presence to them. In addition, the sub-bass lift and dynamic low-end is palpably physical-sounding. Timbre-wise, the Noir favours electronic bass lines over acoustic ones. Tori Kelly’s Nobody Love sounds properly subterranean. Conversely, the double bass on Sarah McKenzie’s That’s It, I Quit is a tad more modest in projection and bloom; relying on extension to bring those woody notes through.

The Noir’s mids sound robust and open – relying on a 1-2kHz rise and tia‘s pristine voice, respectively. Lead instruments never lack clarity and presence, projecting vibrantly without sounding honky. The upper-mids especially excel in dynamic range. When electric guitars roar or songstresses belt, the Noir translates that drama effectively. Layering and detail are absolutely top-class, partly due to the Noir’s 500-1kHz dip. It’s a colouration with the by-product of pulling back the lower harmonics. So, baritones may miss some gravitas, and falsetto vocals may at times sound a tad throaty; hoarse. But, it’s a deliberate choice to achieve the clarity 64 Audio are after, executed well enough to appeal to a fair number of genres.

Up top lies the Noir’s tia-powered top-end: Crisp, articulate and endlessly airy. Details come through effortlessly against a rock-solid backdrop, enriching the image with heaps of fast, well-separated and precisely-imaged nuances. Thankfully, the region has been tempered cleverly as well, allowing the Noir to remain smooth and roomy despite the crisp timbre. It’s also distanced just enough to avoid sounding brash or thin. Transients are well-integrated with the harmonics below – with a touch of wetness – for respectable coherence. Now, these aren’t highs for those looking for the silkiest, warmest ever made. The Noir is more neutral than that. Nevertheless, it’s a treble that’ll please most, with top technique to boot.

Initial Comparisons

Empire Ears Wraith

The Wraith is a denser, more concentrated-sounding monitor. Although it’s not wetter or warmer per se, its instruments are thicker and weightier than the Noir’s because of a fuller 1-2kHz range. The Wraith’s mids have greater integrity, while the Noir takes the cake in sheer definition, clarity and separation. This is also due to the Noir’s sharper upper-treble. The Wraith is more refined and feathered-sounding by comparison. Again, this gives the Noir a sharper, slightly brighter and more dynamic attack, while the Wraith’s restraint gives it greater coherence; togetherness. The Noir then also sounds airier and cleaner with a more defined background, but the Wraith keeps up in expansion and resolution very capably.

Vision Ears Elysium

The Elysium isn’t far off from the Noir in terms of tone. Both straddle neutral with a vibrant, energetic attack. However, in terms of timbre, the Elysium is much wetter and more analog-sounding than the Noir. Its notes seemingly cover a larger surface area, embracing an instrument’s resonances and decays. On the other hand, the Noir attacks and decays at a much faster, tighter rate. This gives the latter a more stringent sense of precision, while the Elysium is the more musical, immersive and soulful-sounding of the two. The midrange again is more coherent and organic-sounding on the Elysium. At the same time, it’s a bit more laid-back as well, while the Noir’s upper-midrange possess more presence and crunch.

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Custom Art FIBAE 4 – Fun, Fidelity, Finesse Wed, 24 Jul 2019 05:44:45 +0000 DISCLAIMER: Custom Art provided me with the FIBAE 4 in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Custom Art for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Custom Art is one of the most eminent value-for-money CIEM brands today. Although many have gunned for the throne, a balance between constant invention and community dialog have made Custom Art the most impressive of them all to watch as they grew sonically, technologically, and aesthetically too. Their recent innovations in FIBAE technology and the Pressure Optimising Design have given birth to the FIBAE Black – one of the the best value in-ears I’ve heard period. And now, with top-firing balanced armatures comes the line-up’s fifth entry: The FIBAE 4 – gutsy, bold and a whole lot of fun.

Custom Art FIBAE 4

  • Driver count: Four balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 8.1Ω @1kHz (+-0.95Ω 10Hz-20kHz)
  • Sensitivity: 115dB @1kHz @0.1V
  • Key feature(s) (if any): FIBAE technology, top-firing drivers
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic in-ear monitors
  • Price: €725
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The FIBAE 4 comes in Custom Art’s signature shoebox, within which are two included cases: A Peli 1010 hard case and a smaller zipper case. Inside the former is the company’s customary Hi booklet, which acts as a quick-start guide, warranty card and certificate of authenticity all in one. There’s also a hand-written date-of-manufacture, which is a nice touch. And finally, below that are your custom IEMs attached to a Plastics One Hi-Res cable, along with a cleaning tool and desiccant.

It’s become a running gag through my numerous encounters with (Custom Art founder) Piotr Granicki on- and offline to contrast his forward-thinking in-ears with his stubbornly stagnant packaging. This plain, black box has been here since Custom Art’s conception in 2012. At this point in their career, I think a packaging revamp with more prominent branding, a classier aesthetic and a couple more accessories here-and-there is long overdue. At the end of the day, although it’s not ultra-crucial to the success of the in-ears, it would definitely make their already-accessible prices all the more sweet.

Thankfully, Custom Art have spared absolutely no expense where it counts. The monitors themselves are gorgeously designed, immaculately constructed and superbly fitting too. Although the shells aren’t 3D-printed per se, they do take advantage of Custom Art’s recent shift towards digital processing. The ear impressions are scanned and trimmed in the digital domain. Once the shape is finalised, it’s printed and turned into a cast for the traditional, hand-poured technique. So, you get the precision of digital processing with the transparency and pristine-ness of hand-poured, UV-cured acrylic.

Visually, the earpieces are exquisite. The faceplates are a hybrid between maple wood and blue acrylic resin, finished on top with a FIBAE IV logo I quickly put together on Photoshop. Below are clear shells flaunting those top-firing drivers as much as possible. As has always been the case for Custom Art, the in-ears are smoothly finished with zero seams, rough areas or dull spots. The colour-coded wiring for left and right are especially nice touches. Combined with the improved fit thank to Custom Art’s digital processing, my FIBAE 4’s are yet another home run on their fit-and-finish track and record.

FIBAE Technology

FIBAE is short for Flat Impedance Balanced Armature Earphone, and it has become Custom Art’s flagship innovation. First introduced with the FIBAE 1 and the FIBAE 2, what the technology ultimately aims to do is preserve the in-ear monitor’s tonal balance no matter the source it’s connected to. So essentially, whether you’re listening to a FIBAE monitor through your laptop or a dedicated DAP, the frequency response should remain the same. This is especially crucial if you plan to use these on mixing consoles, monitor mixers, etc., where the output impedances can vary wildly from one to the other.

Image courtesy of Custom Art

However, that doesn’t mean you won’t hear any differences between said laptop and DAP either. Although FIBAE tech leaves the frequency response intact, the earphone will scale based on whatever data is fed to it. A more resolving DAC is capable of exhibiting superior stage expansion, background blackness, etc. So, although these in-ears won’t bridge the gap between capable and less capable sources, it will allow the user to judge those differences in a clearer manner. And, whatever source you choose to use at the end of the day, you’ll always be guaranteed the sound Custom Art intended.

]]> 0 A First Look: New Flagships from Lime Ears, Empire Ears, Vision Ears and HUM Wed, 17 Jul 2019 16:42:04 +0000 Introduction

Welcome to the very first instalment of A First Look, where I give you my early impressions of a product ahead of the full, thorough review. Although the thoughts I express in this article – sound impressions, especially – may be subject to very slight changes over time, it should give you a fairly good idea of what the product will deliver. Then, what better way to kick off the series than with all new flagships from some of the industry’s strongest names today? Without further ado, here’re your first looks at the Lime Ears Aether R, the Empire Ears Wraith, the Vision Ears ELYSIUM and the HUM Dolores!

Page 1: Lime Ears Aether R
Page 2: Empire Ears Wraith
Page 3: Vision Ears ELYSIUM
Page 4: HUM Dolores

Lime Ears Aether R

The Lime Ears Aether R is a 2019 revision of their much-acclaimed flagship Aether. It maintains all of the original’s bells and whistles – including VariBore, TrueSub and a bass boost switch – whilst adding an additional balanced armature for a six-driver set-up in total. This extra driver is delegated to the lows for increased bass headroom. Respectably priced at the same €1200, the R is as effective an Aether successor, as it is a balanced, resolving entry into the overall TOTL space.

Technical Specifications

  • Driver count: Six balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: N/A
  • Sensitivity: N/A
  • Key feature(s) (if any): Switchable bass response, VariBore, TrueSub
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic IEMs
  • Price: €1200
  • Website:

Sound Impressions

The Aether R is a well-balanced piece with an infectiously engaging personality. In true Lime Ears fashion, instruments loom large with a perfect blend of body and definition, set upon a crystal clear backdrop that immerses you head-first into the music. The Aether R is definitely a put-you-in-the-middle-of-the-band sort of piece, rather than one that puts you in the studio control room observing the performance from a distance. The more upfront instrument positioning says as much. Strict analysis isn’t necessarily discouraged, but you’ll be hard-pressed to do so once you’re toe-tapping and head-bobbing to the R’s unified, cohesive, wall-of-sound presentation, and its lightly warm, smooth and gorgeously clear tone.

The Aether R’s low-end is appropriately big-sounding; large in surface area like the rest of the ensemble. However, the R possesses a much larger degree of control over its predecessor. Notes are allowed a touch of wetness and resonance, but they never bloom or muddy. This results in a low-end that’s never clinical or lean, but never overstays its welcome either. This is particularly beneficial for bass clarity, which the R thrives in. Impact too never oversteps its boundaries, providing a rhythmic drive, but allowing the lead instrument (i.e. the upper-mids) to have the spotlight at all times. And, with bass boost engaged, you get meatier lows for that extra kick should you ever need it for the mood, genre or mix.

The midrange is pushed ever-so-slightly forward for – again – that immersive, larger-than-life, unified response. Unlike the original, the mids here are substantial, well-put-together and resolving; exhibiting none of the wispiness or haziness that plagued the 2015 version. Balance here is maintained expertly as well. Instruments never sound awkward; neither honky nor sucked-out. It’s a linear, resolving response that imbues all sorts of instruments with a wet, smooth and clear presence. And, it’s saturated just enough to ensure those instruments are as three-dimensional as possible. Finally, add wonderful separation and layering to the mix and you have yourself a proficient, immensely-lovable midrange to savour.

Treble is an aspect Lime Ears never seem to flub, and that streak continues here, albeit in a way unique to their previous offerings. Compared to the Aether and Model X, there seems to be a slightly softer edge to the top-end. The Aether R’s is noticeably the most linear. There’s a maturity to it that pays attention to qualities like body and texture, rather than the raw, sparkly clarity the previous models focused on. As fun as the latter may be, I think more seasoned listeners will find more substance with this thicker, wetter response. Cymbals have roundedness, rather than just a sharp, metallic sheen. And, that’s not to mention the Aether R’s massive leap in extension, stability and imaging compared to its predecessor.

Initial Comparisons

Lime Ears Aether

The main difference between the two are in the upper-mids. The original is more clearly u-shaped with neutral vocals, while the R pushes them forward for clarity and presence. The Aether R’s thicker, wetter top-end has seemingly less cut than its predecessor. But, once you listen to the two more intently, the revision is the clear victor when it comes to sheer transparency. The original’s less capable extension simply cannot hold the image as stably as its successor can. A lack of dynamic range becomes really palpable over time. At first listen, the original’s stage seems larger and airier. But, that vastness slowly turns into distance. The bass, though more guiltily fun on the original, is more resolving on the R as well.

Page 1: Lime Ears Aether R
Page 2: Empire Ears Wraith
Page 3: Vision Ears ELYSIUM
Page 4: HUM Dolores

]]> 0 A Gleam Through Thunder – A Review of the Effect Audio Cleopatra Mon, 15 Jul 2019 02:04:55 +0000 ::Disclaimer::
Effect Audio provided Cleo free of charge, for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

Cleo sells for $699

Upon that fated day which will go down in legend, the mad Titan Eric Chong contacted me. He held in his breast a belief that I was Effect Audio’s unofficial Reviewer of the Silver Strands, a reputation I had certainly earned, given how many of their pure silver cables I’d covered. He entreated for Pinky to conquer the newest spawn of their forges, Cleopatra.

Like Thor before her, Cleo has no gold or copper mixed in. She is an all-silver cable. A rarity in Effect Audio’s line-up. The EA standard 26AWG is used, but what goes into those strands is the cutting edge of their evolution and development. Within this UP-OCC Silver Litz is a septuplet bundle of multi-size strands, dispersed using the Golden Ratio; a cool mathematic observation found all throughout nature, from the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, the structure of the human face, or the way galaxies form. It’s also an integral component of music.

As you might guess, the song LATERALUS by Tool is the only way to unlock the full potential this cable. In fact, I recommend you use this track to burn-in Cleo for a good 55 hours, the 10th position in the Fibonacci Sequence. If you do it wrong, the cable may unravel and revert back to its base elements.

Effect Audio is among the very best in the industry, and makes truly fine cables. What makes a quality cable? Fit, finish, ergonomics, and sound. There is no point in a great sounding cable if it’s too uncomfortable to use. How can you focus on the sound when the cable constantly distracts you with stiff, springy, and awkward ergonomics? EA understand this, and has always placed priority on such considerations. And they’ve only gotten better with time.

Cleopatra is a grand example of their evolution. It is wonderfully supple and soft, and drapes with ease. You won’t find a more comfortable 26AWG four-strand. Nor are you likely to find one more beautiful. The pure silver Litz dazzles in its round braid, appearing ever so elegant and graceful. There is something awesome about fine strands of silver weaved together, and oh how EA has mastered this skill.

The Effect Audio Cleopatra possesses the traditional silver sound, compared to their Thor line. This is not smooth, laid-back, or warm silver. No, it’s sharp, energetic, and bright. Cleo exemplifies detail and clarity. Yet this is still Effect Audio we’re talking about, and as such, these bright characteristics are handled with care, refined unto maturity. Cleo’s silver does not sound cold, strident, or brittle, as a lesser cable might. Instead, it comes off utterly transparent.

This is the most revealing, clean-sounding cable I’ve yet heard. The soundstage is expansive, the separation incredible. If you worry about thin, anemic qualities, do not. Cleo issues bodied, dynamic notes, which flood forth in crystalline fashion. The bass strikes with visceral authority, exhibiting an abundance of power and aggression. The mids are weighty, with rounded, three-dimensionality, and a raw, utterly naked spirit. The treble rings out with ultimate purity, free and airy, unbound by any limiting factor.

Comparing this to the standard Thor II ($399, Review HERE), and you are greeted with a more energetic sound by Cleo. Thor is a laid-back, smooth criminal. Very clean and liquid. It’s a relaxing, warmer tone. Whereas Cleo really pushes those details to the front, thanks to its greater overall treble presence. It certainly comes off brighter than Thor, but also more punchy in the bass region. Cleo’s attack is altogether stronger. Thor is the cable to kick back with and let the music sooth you. Cleo makes you sit forward and LISTEN.

The 8-wire Thor II Bespoke ($850, Review HERE) has been my favorite cable since hearing it. And it’s still my favorite for the likes of Legend X. But that’s really just about my personal tastes. LX has enough attack and energy already, and I’m not looking for cables to accentuate those quality. Thor II Bespoke is everything the standard Thor II is, only with extra warmth, due to fuller bass notes, and greater soundstage. I really like those soothing qualities mixed with its impressive technical prowess. To Pinky, it’s the perfect pairing with Legend X.

Now, Thor II Plus ($569.90, Review HERE) is kind of an in between of the standard and Bespoke. It’s probably the warmest of the group, with the fullest low-end, but it’s closer to the standard in terms of soundstage and separation. It’s a weird cable, and I quite like it. You just don’t expect this level of warmth, liquidity, and smoothness from silver. It’s as far from Cleopatra as you are likely to get.

The original Leonidas ($799, Review HERE) is more like Cleo than Thor, in that it’s more about details and transparency than warmth and smoothness. However, Cleo is still the brighter, more energetic of the two. Cleo also has more punch, with fuller bass and greater attack. Leo is a bit thinner-sounding, and noticeably drier. I have not heard the updated Leo II, so I can’t speak to that.

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Lark Studio LSX – Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice Fri, 05 Jul 2019 18:32:41 +0000 DISCLAIMER: Lark Studio loaned me the LSX in return for my honest opinion. I will send the unit back following the review. I am not personally affiliated with the companies in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to Lark Studio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

Lark Studio is an in-ear monitor manufacturer based in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. Although their 2018 debut haven’t given them much time to accrue renown in the portable audio scene, their history suggests a level of experience that should not be underestimated. Their core founding trio have 18 years of it among them, plus another 2 invested into this brand alone. And, all of that has manifested into the company’s debut IEM: The 10-driver Lark Studio LSX. Armed with a warm, full-bodied and syrupy sound, the LSX is sheer pleasure with commendable technique to boot.

Lark Studio LSX

  • Driver count: Ten balanced-armature drivers
  • Impedance: 20Ω @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 110dB @ 1mW
  • Key feature(s) (if any): N/A
  • Available form factor(s): Custom and universal acrylic in-ear monitors
  • Price: $1699
  • Website:

Build and Accessories

The LSX comes in a rather sizeable package with a black outer sleeve. Removing the sleeve reveals the box, lined with a black, leather-esque material and the Lark Studio logo embossed on top. Unfolding the lid open reveals the LSX and all its included accessories recessed within foam cut-outs. The foam itself is dense and velvet red in colour, lending to both security and aesthetics. The add-ons include five extra pairs of tips (silicone, bi-flange and foam), a 1/4″ adapter and an airline adapter. Then, there’s a smaller box containing the final few accessories: A storage pouch, a microfibre cloth, a cleaning tool and two rubber bands for amp stacking. Presentation-wise, Lark Studio have certainly not skimped out.

The earpieces themselves are superbly constructed. The shells feel even and smooth, as does the lacquer finish on top. Cosmetically, they sport a simple, black colour scheme with metallic artwork on top. But, it takes a mere glance at Lark Studio’s social media to grasp the artistic complexity they’re truly capable of. From glittered and abalone-lined shells to wood-resin-hybrid faceplates, the sky is really the limit as far as customisation is concerned. I’m a huge fan of how Lark Studio have contoured their shells. For my ears specifically, the grooves fit really well, further aided by the shell’s small footprint. The tips do dig deep in the ear, so keep that in mind if you’re used to shallower fits with universal monitors.

Finally, the LSX also comes with a braided copper cable, as well as a leather-esque cable tie. As a whole, the shine of the conductors in tandem with the metallic and carbon-fibre elements are visually appealing. Ergonomics leave much to be desired, especially compared to aftermarket offerings. But nevertheless, it’s an added value to the LSX’s overall package.


Lark Studio also offer a Splendor variant of the LSX, which includes a PWAudio Saladin cable for a $200 premium. The Saladin is a copper-and-SPC hybrid cable, which I featured briefly in my CanJam Singapore 2018 coverage article. It also retails for S$439 via Music Sanctuary, which translates to around $325 at the time of writing. I can’t comment on synergy as I haven’t heard the pairing, but when you take into account the value proposition, improved ergonomics and ability to customise terminations, I believe the Splendor is a worthy option to consider when purchasing the LSX. Also, considering the leap in performance and treble presence I hear when I demo’ed the LSX with Satin Audio’s all-copper Griffin cable, I think an upgrade cable is something the LSX can really benefit from – especially if clarity and detail are what you’re after.

]]> 0 Hifiman Releases Their First True-Wireless IEM: TWS600 Thu, 04 Jul 2019 14:51:19 +0000 Introduction –

Hifiman achieved renown with their excellent planar magnetic headphones and value-orientated IEMs. With the more premium RE-800 and RE-2000 released in recent years, they introduced topology driver diaphragm. This technology implements a nano-particle coating layered in geometric patterns that lowers distortion and enables finer tuning of driver properties. With the TWS600, Hifiman now bring that technology into the realm of true-wireless in-ears. The result is a neutrally-toned sound with excellent control and definition contained within a convenient form factor. You can read more about the TWS600 here.

Design –

From initial perusal of first impressions in China, I couldn’t help but notice how chunky the TWS600 looked. However, they’re actually quite reasonable in the ear due to their shaping and deeper fit; so most of the housing gets hidden within the ear. I also get an excellent fit and seal, there is some driver flex yet this has caused no issues for me over my past days of testing.

Isolation is excellent, some of the best I’ve come across. They have a stable fit, staying put during a 6Km run and multiple gym sessions. It is interesting to note that each driver can be paired individually to a source which means you can squeeze double the battery life out of them when used mono, for instance, as a headset. They offer 5.5hrs each and 38.5hrs in total when factoring in charges from the case.

Call quality was above average but not outstanding with callers reporting that my voice didn’t sound distant but was slightly muffled. The build quality is above average, having a plastic construction but also impressive solidity in the hand. They have one button on the outer face that handles assistant, volume, playback and call controls in various combinations of presses and holds.

Sound –

Upon first listen, I couldn’t help but find it refreshing to listen to a TWS earphone without overwhelming bass. Rather, the TWS600 is quite vocal forward with more reserved bass and treble. Similar to past Hifiman IEMs, it pursues a more reference orientated sound with a neutral tone. It isn’t quite as balanced or linear as their wired offerings nor as technical, however, it does carry the same style of presentation.  

Bass is very tight and the mid-bass definition is outstanding. Extension is also quite good though sub-bass is very recessed and overall bass takes a back seat. The TWS600 is has heaps of vocal presence, they are clearly forward though they are also off timbre as the lower-midrange has a peak as does the upper-midrange around 4KHz. This makes them sound a bit hollow and, at times, strident, lacking some coherence and body. In return, they are very clear, separated and open sounding.

Treble is smooth with just enough crispness around the lower treble to provide nice detail presence without becoming too sharp. The background is also clean while retaining enough air so as to avoid sounding closed off. This is great coming from most TWS sets that tend to be V-shaped with boosted lower-treble. The soundstage is special to me, separation is terrific due to its thinner style of sound and I have yet to hear a wider stage from a TWS earphone. 

Early Verdict –

Though initial impressions are positive overall, it is important to note that users should not expect the same quality as Hifiman’s wired in-ears despite the presence of a similar driver technology. Indeed, these earphones trade some level of sound quality for convenience. Yet, it is in this regard that they excel with strong ergonomics and isolation in addition to IPX4 water resistance, long battery life and a compact case. This is an interesting TWS model to watch for users looking for a convenient listen without exaggerated bass and treble.

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