Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to my measurement setup, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities to reduce coupler resonance. Still, due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.
The Nair has been frequently dubbed as a neutral to reference IEM and I would agree with this statement. It is a touch vocal focussed but, overall, achieves very strong balance and linearity. It doesn’t trace the Harman or Diffuse-field neutral curves but is a rough appropriation of the later with a slightly different midrange tonality. Otherwise, the Nair simply comes across to me as a very tonally clean and balanced earphone with minimal colouration. Sweet and simple, one for the purists.
Those looking for a fun signature promptly look away, the Nair is without emphasis of any kind. Rather, its bass is very linear and, in terms of quantity, appears a touch laid-back relative to the midrange to my ears. This means the voicing too, is quite neutral, where a similar style of earphone such as the CFA Ara might draw a bit more attention with bolstered fullness. In return, there is a complete absence of any bloat, bloom or tubbiness and the timbre is very accurate. However, don’t expect bass to ever steal the show nor drive the sound; it is not anaemic but slightly lean with a greater focus on control and agility overpower and warmth. Bass qualities are essentially what you would expect from a midrange BA earphone – that is to say, desirable in terms of detail retrieval but without anything special otherwise.
The presentation is quite typical of the BA earphones of old with limited sub-bass extension producing minimal pressure and a slightly more diffuse slam, defined but slightly diminished rumble. Still, mid-bass is very punchy as notes retain adequate body and weight. They are highly clean and defined, presented with a quick, sharp attack and similarly, rapid decay underpinned by high driver control. In turn, the Nair delivers excellent separation and pace alongside an aggressive texture. Its agile bass is easily able to dissect complex tracks and retrieve fine details in the mid-bass region, though it does lack some depth and drive on bassier tracks.
The midrange is naturally voiced and, similar to the low-end, presented in a very neutral and accurate fashion. There are slight deviations from perfect neutral to my ear, perhaps relative to an Etymotic earphone. In particular, the centre midrange peaks around 2.5kHz as opposed to 3kHz. As a result, vocal size is slightly increased and extension is a touch reduced. Some may prefer this as vocals come across as slightly smoother and denser, while positioning remains accurate; neither too intimate nor laid-back. As vocal size is slightly increased, they do tend to take precedence over instruments in both the bass and midrange.
However, all are presented very accurately with superb cleanliness. The tone is dead neutral and articulation, which multi-thousand-dollar earphones often fail to nail, is almost perfectly faithful to the source material. I do hear slightly thinner vocal body as a result of their slight enlargement with only a touch of bolstering around the lower-midrange to compensate. In return, vocal definition and cleanliness is outstanding as is layering and clarity without sounding upper-midrange dominant in any manifestation. This is a naturally voiced and highly accurate midrange rendition with excellent resolving power.
Isolated peaks begone, the Nair is linear, even and gradual in its tuning. The lower-treble is especially even-metered and sits in harmony with the midrange. In turn, treble instrumentation is portrayed with accurate body and texture, notes have a pleasing attack and decay naturally too. Cymbals I found to be especially flattered with heaps of texture. Meanwhile, strings and percussion appear accurate and natural too. There isn’t a whiff of aggression or enhanced crispness here, the experience is very well-considered for those wanting an accurate rendition over an energetic one. That said, it’s higher up where we see some limitation of that 3-BA setup, this earphone does not provide the same level of end to end extension as some earphone around this price range – some of which are quite exceptional.
Though the middle-treble too appears well-metered to me, clean but with ample headroom, the extension is not outstanding and there is minimal sparkle at the very top. Listeners will still find a well-layered presentation here and one that balances air and contrast well. The Nair has excellent foreground detail retrieval and a highly accurate portrayal of instruments. However, in its pursuit of realism, sacrifices the additional energy, headroom and sparkle that makes high-end IEMs sound so romantic and magical. This is surely a matter of preference as I don’t find too many earphones here to achieve both accuracy in the lower-treble and energy higher up. So take into account your which you’d like for your listening experience before your final purchase decision.
The soundstage presentation is, in turn, not the most expansive but roomy enough to avoid ever sounding claustrophobic. There is expansion just beyond the head in width and appeasing projection of depth too with accurate positioning of vocals. Imaging I feel will be a highlight, the transient response is quite clean and directional cues are well represented. Localization is flattered by an accurate portrayal of distance on behalf of the Nair’s very accurate portrayal of volume and size. It isn’t holographic but very stable and well-layered. Separation is also strong throughout while upholding good coherence. So though not the largest presentation, the Nair’s sound is very well-organized and structured which does aid the discernment of smaller details.
The Nair has a 26-ohm impedance and unspecified sensitivity though it is roughly on par with most other high-end BA earphones. As such, it doesn’t require an external amplifier to reach high volumes but its impedance is high enough that it isn’t excessively source sensitive when it comes to output impedance and hiss. I think Nicola has done a pleasing job here at making an earphone that’s quite easy to drive and live with.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
26-ohms is on the higher side, especially for a 3-driver setup and Nicola did specify to me that the earphones were designed to be as source agnostic as possible. And when comparing between the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) and Hiby R6 (10-ohms), I was impressed at how similar the presentation was. Sure, the Hiby was a touch fuller in the bass and vocals were slightly more laid-back as well, however, the treble was very similar as was extension in either direction. The Nair isn’t completely source agnostic like a flat-impedance design but will be forgiving of sources with up to 3-ohm output impedance with only mild changes above.
The Nair doesn’t require much power, it is efficient while not being too sensitive to hiss. The M2X and DD TC35B were both almost silent with minor hiss only audible on the very lowest volume on the M2X, essentially unusable unless you’re superhuman. However, this also meant that stepping up to my desktop THX 789 setup didn’t yield huge benefits which is both a pro and a con. Accordingly, the Nair doesn’t scale up much with higher-end sources. It does sound a bit more linear and the presentation becomes slightly wider from the desktop source, but for the most part, it is not too discerning.
Suggested Pair Ups
As always, this will depend on personal preferences, but at the very least, GAudio has made it easier to source match here. The earphones don’t mind a slightly higher impedance or noise floor and don’t lose too much resolution and width from portable sources either. Tonality wise, I enjoyed the generally warmer AKM sound as provided by the M2X which provided a bit more warmth in the bass alongside a slightly crisper treble. This added a bit more engagement into the Nair’s otherwise very flat sound. The Hiby R6 took the warmth a bit too far, the bass becomes slightly woollier. Neutral sources like the iBasso DX200 are also desirable albeit a bit sterile at times for my tastes. This will depend on implementation, but in general, early ESS sources did not possess the best synergy as, though revealing, they did skew the tonality too lean.
Audiofly AF1120 MK2 ($699): The AF1120 MK2 sports a 6-BA setup with Butterworth filter. It has a very balanced sound but strikes as more neutral/natural with its warmer tone. The AF1120 extends similarly and the quantity is similar as well. However, the AF1120 introduces a warmer mid-bass, creating a slightly fuller presentation. It is also quickly decaying though the Nair has a cleaner tuning and is more defined. The AF1120 has a slightly more natural presentation to my ears while the Nair is more neutral, trading timbre for detail. The midrange is more open on the AF1120 MK2. It has less body in return for greater extension and clarity. This is counterbalanced by its warmer mid-bass that creates a warmer midrange alongside smoother articulation due to a lower-treble trough.
Meanwhile, the Nair offers the objectively more accurate timbre, being more linear and cleaner in tone, in turn, a bit more resolving. The AF1120 MK2 has smoother articulation so it offers a more coloured presentation and, to me, a more inviting tone while retaining a natural voicing. The treble is more linear on the Nair once again and detail retrieval is better in the foreground as a result. The AF1120 MK2 has a little more headroom and air albeit minimal sparkle as well. The Nair has a larger soundstage, specifically wider, while the AF1120 mk2 has slightly sharper imaging. The Nair is more separated while the AF1120 MK2 is more coherent with its warmer sound and generally fuller note structure.
NXEars Opera ($799): The Opera has a less orthodox tuning but strikes similar overall balance. It’s meatier 8-BA setup is phase-coherent delivering outstanding imaging. The Opera has a larger bass with greater balance between the sub and mid-bass. Neither extend especially well but the Opera comes across as fuller and substantially more robust and weighted. It has similar speed and definition, but the timbre isn’t quite as accurate, the Nair also has a slightly cleaner mid-bass which gives it a slight advantage on busy tracks. The midrange presentation is also quite different. Although both are natural, the Nair is cleaner and more linear while the Opera is again, more robust. The Opera is more full-bodied and a touch warmer, it is smoother but also drier and more truncated sounding.
Both have accurate articulation to me, the Nair comes across as more accurate in timbre overall while the Opera lies on the musical while achieving a natural voicing. The top-end is substantially crisper on the Opera and this is likely why its upper-midrange is denser to compensate. It has better detail retrieval but also thinner instrumentation, the Nair offering more accurate body and decay. The Opera has greater extension and headroom, though neither possess much sparkle. The soundstage is also similarly sized on both, the Opera offering more holographic imaging with quicker, sharper transients while the Nair possesses slightly more accurate positioning. The Nair has a slight leg up on separation as well due to its cleaner tuning.
Astrotec Phoenix ($799): The Phoenix offers a substantially more engaging and fun W-shaped signature with a hybrid DD + EST driver setup. The low-end immediately is much more prominent with substantially greater sub-bass extension and quantity. It delivers a more muscular rumble and slam alongside a fuller, but also tubbier mid-bass. The Phoenix is well-controlled but still quite slowly decaying compared to the Nair. When it comes to detail the Nair has a good advantage, being much cleaner in its tuning in addition to much quicker attacking and decaying. The presentation is very different. The midrange is more upper-midrange biased on the Phoenix and its vocals sound a bit more strained as a result. However, it is a bit more full-bodied than the Nair due to its much larger bass.
Meanwhile, the Nair is a bit more natural and more accurate in timbre. The Phoenix actually has smoother articulation which helps to round off its forward upper-midrange though the Nair comes across as the more linear and resolving performer here, the Phoenix a more engaging. The top-end is much more aggressive on the Phoenix. It has substantially higher detail retrieval and stronger extension with greater headroom and sparkle but also thinner and sharper instrumentation. The Nair is more accurate in terms of quantity and it has much more instrument body. The Phoenix has a larger soundstage in turn, both width and depth. The Nair images better with its more linear tuning and it also has better separation.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099): Earphone manufacturers certainly should be very careful pricing their earphones. The Nair sits in striking distance to the big Andro and likely at the same price if the buyer is willing to go with a second-hand option. In summary, the Nair is a less technical earphone throughout but it does provide notable benefits with its more linear tuning. The low-end is fuller and warmer on the Andro. It has better extension with more punch in the mid-bass and a weightier sub-bass slam. The Andro sounds more engaging and dynamic but also more bloated due to its fuller mid-bass, the Nair being more defined and discerning of small details. The midrange is warmer and fuller on the Andro, a bit more laid-back relative to the Nair. The Nair has a more linear and accurate voicing where the Andro introduces more colour.
Despite the tone, articulation is also much different, having more emphasis on the Andro and more accuracy on the Nair. This means the Andro sounds glossier and more open but is also more prone to sibilance on poorly mastered tracks especially. The treble tells a similar story, being more aggressive on the Andro and more even on the Nair. The lower-treble is much crisper with more aggressive attack on the Andro and it is more detailed at the cost of losing some body and texture. The Andro has an airier background with much more sparkle that draws focus to its stronger extension and resolution. The Nair is cleaner while the Andro reinforces its stronger technicals with its more energetic tuning. The Andro has a larger soundstage in all aspects and sharper, more holographic imaging while the Nair is more stable with better separation.
Earphones like this are tough to review because they don’t really warrant much compliment nor are they easy to criticize. For the Nair excels with versatility, delivering a reasonably uncompromised experience throughout. The build is excellent, the ergonomics superb, even the cable and ear tips are premium, further enhancing this impression. Sonically, we observe a similar conundrum. There isn’t anything wrong with the tuning beyond whether it matches your personal preference. It is very balanced top to bottom and accurate in tone and timbre. It isn’t the best-in-class technically, possessing neither the sparkle nor the bass extension to best its peers. However, it does have the most accurate tuning of them all. The Nair is not an earphone that excels when reviewed but it might just be one of the most perfect IEMs to live with day to day. If you’re looking for a neutral, accurate sound without a fatiguing top-end and value build and ergonomics, the Nair is certainly a strong investment.
The Nair is available from GAudio (International) for €759 at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with GAudio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Ariana Grande – thank u, next
Billy Joel – The Stranger
Bob Seger – Stranger in Town
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Dire Traits – Communique
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Joji – Sanctuary
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Nirvana – Nevermind
Phoenix – United
Suggi – cheer up!
The Cranberries – Something Else
The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World