I would like to thank Heir Audio for letting me be one of the first, if not the first, to demo the 2.ai and review these.
Pros: Hard carrying case, cables feel well built, pin connectors are very sturdy, housings feel well built, removable cable, strong bass, vocals can sound incredible, highs are clean.
Cons: Bass is certainly overpowering and lacks in quality, cables are hard to remove, vocals can sound artificial, highs are rolled off, poor soundstage.
Style: Over-ear IEM.
Tonal Balance: Warm/Bass heavy.
Listening Set-Up: Oppo HA-1, Sansa Clip+
During my review of the Heir 2.ai I’ve used them at the gym, through my desktop set-up and on walks with my Sansa Clip+. I’ve used them for at least 3 weeks of moderate use with a variety of music before coming to my conclusions. My review is from that of a headphone enthusiast with experience with a wide variety of headphones listening to a wide variety of music.
The 2.ai come with a variety of tips, a headphone cleaning tool, and a hardshell case.
Design and Build Quality
The 2.ai are built very well from the cable to the housings. I have full confidence that these will hold up with time and the finish shows the attention to detail they’ve put into their first “budget” IEM. The fit is solid with decent comfort and staying power with no microphonics. These are built just as well, if not better, than the Tzar 350 that I recently reviewed.
From plug to tip the 2.ai are one of the most competently built IEMs that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. The 3.5mm input jack is angled at 90* and has a very solid housing and stress relief that shows no sign of wear yet. The cable has been braided and looks rather sleek with a good amount of flexibility, feeling sturdy rather than flimsy. The cable separates in a y with a clear plastic cable cinch, even here the cables remain braided. As the cable reaches the end I am impressed with how sturdy and thick the pins feel. I feel much less likely to break these than with the Tzar 350, which I felt a bit flimsy, as if it could slide in and out of the housing as well as bend very easily. This is not the case with the 2.ai cable. The ear guide is run of the mill, similar to other guided IEMs with removable cables.
The housings are made of two parts, a brushed aluminum red housing with Heir Audio beautifully inscribed into them, with a black plastic housing. The housing is molded into one piece with dual ports on the nozzle. The housing has shown no signs of stress through my work-outs and the finish is superb.
Fortunately I’ve found a good fit with the red stemmed tips come standard on the 2.ai. There are two other tips, one being sort of dual flanged, the other having a divider in the opening. I say “sort of” dual flanged because the tips, when pushed in, put the tip of the nozzle directly into the ear, no protection at all. I found these tips to be unusable for me for fit, not even considering the potential for wax to get pushed into the bores in the nozzle. The divided tips I also get a good fit with, but I don’t understand their purpose, therefore I stuck with the red nozzled tips.
Isolation with these tips is expected for a tip of this style, neither fully isolating me from the outside world, but with music playing at a respectable volume I can not hear anything. Comfort wise I’ve had no issues, though my longest sessions have only been three hours. The tips are silicone so they do slide out when my ears sweat at the gym, but I’ve found that positioning with the 2.ai isn’t as sensitive as other IEMs. The insertion is moderate, neither deep nor shallow, somewhere in between.
The 2.ai are a bass heavy IEM that sacrifices the mids, at times, and sound stage to present big bass. Unfortunately the bass lacks the texture and speed to be fully enjoyed with the music that I’ve ran through it.
Let’s start with the sub-bass by testing my two favorite tracks for sub-bass: James Blake - Limit to Your Love and Jay-Z - Holy Grail. When listening to James Blake’s Limit… I like to listen to how the headphones handle the quickly quavering sub-bass notes. What I’ve found with the 2.ai is that they simply do not have the sub-bass speed to keep up with the rapidly pulsating notes that I’ve become accustomed to in other headphones. In-fact these might be one of the slowest in sub-bass responses that I’ve heard. Not only that, but the bass in the track feels rather thin and directed instead of feeling surrounding, along with a one-note bass feel. The definition certainly isn’t showing all the while pushing into the mids in an unpleasant way. I like to use Holy Grail as a demonstration of how deep the bass can reach cleanly, I find it to be mastered nicely with big sub-bass that should never encumber the mids. The sub-bass is certainly huge, more so than the LEAR LUF-4B that I recently reviewed, the rumble is there but the bass is too directed to give a full sense of satisfaction. At the same time I find that the bass mildly encumbers the mids. Unfortunately the sub-bass just doesn’t satisfy me.
Moving onto the mid-bass I like to listen to a variety of kick drum and bass guitar focused music to see how they interact. In my listenings I’ve found that the bass guitar tends to outshine the kick drum in presence. The kick drum sounds muffled in almost every recording that I’ve thrown at it. The bass guitar nearly swallows it, taking a lot of impact away from an already dampened feel. In almost every track that I’ve played the kick drum sounds as if it’s improperly dampened with the bass guitar being too prominent. Not one track has satisfied me for bass.
The mids are an odd sort. At times they can sound incredible; natural and intimate on a level that gives me goosebumps. Unfortunately these moments are nearly always restricted to acoustic recordings. In indie rock songs the guitars sound aggressive and energetic until the bass guitar and drums come in, then they take a back seat, as if they’re fighting for attention. It’s not strictly the mids that are pushed out, the lower register of the mids, low notes on the piano for instance, are forward. The problem causes instruments in the mids to upper-mids (vocals and guitar notably) to appear drowned. This is consistent from Bloc Party to Sara Bareilles. I wish I could say that this meant that sibilance was lessened, and to an extent it sort of is, but when vocals are solo the sibilance can be piercing, notably on the Sara Bareilles track Come Round Soon. The mids aren’t all bad though, as I said. Acoustic tracks sound very nice on these, from the acoustic guitar to the harmonica. They aren’t the pinnacle of naturalism, nor are they the definition of clarity, but they are certainly competent when not encumbered by the pushy bass and mid-bass.
The highs are in balance with the mids, they are actually nicely balanced with the mids, unfortunately this rarely shows. At times when the highs do get some sort of presence they roll off more than the Oppo PM-1, or at least it feels like it. The highs exhibit no airiness or sparkle, they exist cleanly, but not in a way that will please anyone who likes their highs.
The 2.ai have a mixed bag in the presentation department as well. The width of the soundstage is narrow, front focused with little side presence. The depth fares better than the width, adding a sense of space in that regard. Imaging is poor though as is channel space, in-fact everything feels pushed together with little regard for space or where it’s coming from.
The Heir 2.ai are the first new IEM released since Wizard left and while the build quality is superb the sound quality is lacking in many ways. The bass is the focus, but it’s muddy and undefined. The mids are shoved out of the spotlight by the bass guitar and one-note sub-bass. The highs are clean, but offer no energy. The soundstage is cramped and front focused. I don’t find much that I love about the sound unfortunately, it just doesn’t suit my ears. I feel that there are far more competent sounding headphones that are cheaper than the 2.ai, it’s just unfortunate that they do not have the polish on the build that the 2.ai have.