May 11, 2015
Heir Audio turned up in headphone scene around the same time as me and their climb to success was shockingly quick and the reasoning was clear. They were the first company to really push forward the level of customisation in a custom in-ear monitor (CIEM), yes companies prior to Heir had offered customisation but not on the level of Heir. It was also the first we saw of wooden faceplates in this product space, something that is now an offering from all the major brands and although it shouldn’t be, it is easy to forget that Heir are indeed the pioneer of wood. Even though their original product line consisted solely of custom products, I have now reviewed 3 models from Heir but never has one been made to custom fit my ear. Obviously the success wouldn’t have held if their products didn’t impress in terms of sonics and the original flagship, the 8 balanced armature (BA) 8.A, seemed to hit the spot with most buyers. That being said the 8.A started to age with it still being the flagship in late 2014 and Heir only bringing out new universals and lower end models. On top of that while I can see why people enjoy the overly warm, lush and thick sound of the 8.A (I have the universal version, the IEM 8.0), it isn’t a technical masterpiece or really up my preference street. Moving into 2015 I think it was clear a new flagship was needed, it surely had to have more balance and be technically better and obviously I wanted to finally check out a custom fit product from Heir. GIANT SPOILER ALERT: They have done all 3, welcome to the 10.A!
10 Precision Tuned BA Drivers:
Well that’s what Heir claim to be using in their brand new flagship, the 10.A. Using a 4 way crossover and a single twin driver for the lows, highs and curiously named ultra highs along with two individual twins for the midrange, there is a lot packed into Heirs beautiful custom made shells.
Talking about beautiful shells and you just have to look at mine for a sample, or any posted on the companies social media pages (they do them all, look up their Facebook or Instagram) and you will see what I mean. At the moment it seems like they are in love with using gold, throwing pure gold leaf as a faceplate and even floating in the shells. They also obviously use a plethora of different high quality woods, carbon fibre, metals and even PCB boards. Guess what, for me this was just too much, I had no clue what too choose, did I go for a classy gold design, something real simple and clean or even a unique crazy design. I got in such a state of excitement I ended up just telling them to make me something awesome and they delivered.
Heir went with a blue theme for my monitors, for the faceplate, a special blue carbon fibre and the shell, a translucent light blue. On top of that to get a bit of gold into the design, they engraved the Inearspace logo onto one faceplate. Now funnily enough the only customisation option of all that you have to pay for if your buying the 10.As is the engraving, which would be between $45-$85. Most faceplate designs come free including wood, carbon fibre, mirror and PCB and you only have to dig into your wallet if you want both channels to be different or something crazy such as wood and carbon fibre hybrid or woven grass on the faceplate. In fact as a laugh I recommend going on Heirs website and just having a play with all the options available, they are so vast, I just wish they had a JH Audio esque web designer to make visualising a design a bit easier. Nothing beats actually seeing how different options compliment each other.
The actual quality is really top notch and everything just seems like it is done with a sense of artistry about it. The blue shell, a seemingly simple option is almost completely clear at some parts but then on the curves it is a much deeper blue, its gorgeous. Then you have the faceplate, which is carbon fibre, much like many other companies offer, but do they offer blue? Gold? Green? Or even patterned effects in it? Probably not! On top of that the shell is completely bubble free and our logo, not just engraved but in a rich gold. In something as subjectively appreciated as design, these are by far my best looking customs to date and are finished spot on.
As for cable this like the IEM 8.0 comes with Heir Magnus 1 cable, which you can read more about in the just mentioned earphones very own review but to save you the time, it a top level stock cable. You also get a new cable, one that comes with a remote and mic. The quality isn’t near as good as the Magnus but if you want the smart phone compatibility (they do one for both IOS and Android) then this is a great option, considering getting a stand CIEM phone cable is quite a rarity.
Now the fit is actually a little bit fiddly with these. When I got them the right piece popped in like normal, no problems there but the left caused me a little more trouble. Now with ten drivers a channel, these are obviously a little on the bigger side but that being said, I don’t see myself having near small ears. However I think the trouble was just down to how these are designed. Comparing them to my Hidition Viento-R, they are a little deeper in profile, in fact they do match the 12 driver JH Roxanne there but they are also obviously more present in the cymba and have a little notch that fits under the crux of the helix. Funnily this is just like the ACS Encore and is just a different method of fitting a CIEM where you have to get the body of the monitor under the crux before you press it into your ear. In all my CIEM experience they have all fitted the same way until recently with the Heir and ACS, how odd. Now this method once fitted, is VERY secure and also comfortable, however it does take some technique to fit right and can become frustrating at first. Especially when you just want to pop them in quickly. I will add these were fairly deep fitting as well and the end of the canal portion was actually thicker than usual, not that I felt that in anyway. Isolation was standard brilliance from an acrylic custom.
Obviously I made a little spoiler to the sound early but this is a clear departure to pretty much any Heir product I have ever heard (minus the Tzar models) and like the colour of these, if you were editing them in Adobe Lightroom and adjusted the temperature, they would be more blue than the Heir 8.0s warm orange. Maybe that is a slight exaggeration as these aren’t exactly defined as cold, they actually comes across as quite a clear mid forward earphone. The midrange is always in the spotlight, with a snappy bass on one side and an energetic treble on the other. Even though they sound completely different to the 8.0 one thing I do find to be very similar is just how musical, engaging and rhythmical they are. That in itself is a huge compliment with most earphones of a similar very balanced tuning end up being sterile and boring.
Coming off last weeks disappointing boxing match I have to describe the bass of these to be very featherweight. Quick on its feet with a slightly padded right hook but still without doubt knows how to throw a punch. At least that’s what my first thoughts of the bass were. Then I played around with some different sources, I moved from my standard rig of PWAK120-B to Vorzuge Pure to the Lotoo Paw Gold, then to the Bakoon HPA-01 with either of the two sources line outs. While the character of the midrange and treble always seemed to keep pretty similar, with the standard influences of the source gear obviously taking effect, the bass was always almost dramatically different, in weight, texture, depth, decay, it really was shocking. The explanation of this is likely quite simple and that is the impedance and/or phase plots of the 10 drivers won’t be quite linear enough, meaning they will be really sensitive to different output impedances among other things. So what does this mean? Well mainly it means I have a hard time describing the bass because source becomes such a huge factor. It also means you will have to be careful with what you pair with and get some different capabilities out of these. That being said the first way I heard it, off my modded AK120 and Vorzuge rig seems to be the most recurring and standard way the bass comes across and I really like it. Yes it’s a little bit lean but its super fast, is a bit quick on the decay but coupled with some half decent extension, doing a little better than the UERM but not quite keeping up with the Hidition Viento-R, it is pretty satisfying. While texture may not be as groovy as say the Custom Art Harmony 8 Pro, its dryer with such as crisp and isolated impact and honestly, it hits the spot for me, although I can see it not delivering for those expecting a warm or thumping sound.
As I mentioned this sounding different with other sources though it would be rude not to dig a little deeper and report my findings. Well the must crazy difference was off the Bakoon HPA-01M and more specifically from the current output. It was one of those moments where you do a double take, and I even checked I was listening to the Heirs and not the warm and bassy ACS Encores. The bass was thicker, weightier, it wasn’t quite heavyweight but we were easily into welterweight territory. What was even crazier though was the decay that comes with it; we have a warmer timbre and a funkier but less precise sound. You also got some dirty sub bass, much more so than with anything else. Now an obvious and quick a/b was with the Bakoon’s voltage out, seated right next to the current one that decided to make the bass go hulk on me. Instantly it was much leaner, not quite as much as of the first rig, it was a little creamy in comparison but again wasn’t quite as focussed with impact, we lost that crazy extension as well that the current mode mustered up. Finally we had the Lotoo and this was surely my least favourite of the bunch, it seemed not only a bit weak, lacking aggression in the punch but seemed to be less tight at the same time, bundled with the worst extension as well, this wasn’t for me. Again as I said, the main description in the previous paragraph was the most common finding of the bass, with me getting a less refined version of that sound with most DAPs I have scattered around and even my smart phone.
With that out of the way as we get better consistency, yes source gear will affect the mids and high frequencies but no more than the normal difference you would expect with any other headphones, the bass was just a little more drastic and surprising.
With that in mind the midrange to me was very fresh, an odd term I know but that’s how I found it. It is balanced with no obvious favour to any certain areas (although it does have some obvious and clear body in the upper mids), which is something that should be cleared up for those who saw the 4.Ai measurements. It also done an amazing job of making me connected to and at one with the music, something Josh normally goes on about a lot more than me. You just feel so close to the happenings, you’re at the front row of the gig and as you can imagine, your loving every single minute of what goes on. The midrange really is phenomenal; a sweet timbre that is rich and just makes everything sound grand and natural at the same time. Its breath-taking and making me slightly lost for words, if you can believe that. On top of the fact that I love it, it is extremely good in all technical areas, it is as refined as they come, everything is painted on a black background with amazing space and separation and the levels of clarity are just incredible. Like the bass these are also quick on decay and they just adds to that incredible focussed sound and while this is a quite lean sound, it is never anaemic or something you see as negative, it is something you just accept because of what it lets these achieve. That quick decay does however give these as overall dynamic sound with good bite.
The treble is probably the worst area in terms of absolute technical level and at the same time by no means bad. I say that because it is just ever so slightly sometimes border lining aggressive and is also a little bit grainy as well. It comes off of the upper mids quite keen and gets straight down to business; it is here where we are just a touch hot. For what I look for in treble, I often use the Hidition as a benchmark, detailed, smooth, bodied and still a little north of neutral. This has a lot of those qualities but seems just a bit wispier, with a touch more splash to it. Obviously it is crystal clear and obviously it extends to the end of the world and back. Strangely it isn’t in the much higher frequencies I find these a touch aggressive; at 10 kHz they have a much more sensible presence, less than say the Hidition’s.
Now from my finding in the bass and expectation that impedance and/or phase curves aren’t the flattest, I find a incredible and tight coherency between everything with these, it is one of the reasons these are so great why they are so punctual and why I keep saying the word crisp to describe them. For everything to be well spaced it is always good if there is err… space…. While once again I find myself saying that an earphone I am reviewing doesn’t have the completely huge space that the JH Siren Series has, I do find this to be the closest so far, getting turned down right at the border. But what it can do much better than the Sirens is image, everything is so much more precise and while they have the width, this adds some depth to the mix to leave you pretty darn amazed.
It’s not the smoothest earphone, there is some grain here and there, and sometimes it even has some rough edges but this thing combines musicality, forwardness, detail and coherency to make what is easily one of my favourite experiences in an earphone to this date, without doubt and expect it do be going toe to toe with absolutely everyone in our upcoming flagship round up.
A Rare Luxury:
Looking at these shiny blue earphones, they look like some rich fancy, jewellery. They don’t come cheap but for some people, a pretty enough product warrants that. But this is one of the rare few that nails every category, from comfort, to build, all the way to the sweet, sweet sound its reproduces and for that reason, it is a great buy and whole hearted recommendation from myself. And before I go, yes I did fall completely head over heels with these and yes I have an emotional connection with this that I don’t have with any other monitor, perhaps.