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October 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
64 Audio A12 Custom In-Ear Monitors With New ADEL Modules
Beautiful sound with 12 drivers plus the safety and versatility of ADEL.
Review By Steven R. Rochlin

 

64 Audio A12 Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs)

  Over the past few years have been more actively pursuing, and reviewing, custom in-ear monitors (CIEMs). Having used the universal variety since 1989 or thereabouts, including the world's first dual-driver IEM by Panasonic, it never ceases to amaze me the progress that is now being made within the industry. During the past five years we have seen incredible progress being made. This review of the latest offering, 64 Audio (was 1964 Ears) model A12 ($1999), combines 12 drivers and a unique user-swappable adjustable module. Their Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens module (ADEL, $199 per set) and 3D scanning technology is at the heart of their new custom in-ear monitor A series and universal fit U series. ADEL is a secondary 'natural ear drum' that absorbs the pressure within your ear drum to relieve the pneumatic pressures that 64 Audio says can lead to hearing fatigue and perhaps hearing loss. It is also said to enhance the accuracy of the phase and sound of the music it produces. Their 3D scanning technology skips the old-school mold-making process and allows them to take a scan of your ear impressions and refine them to ensure a proper fitting within your ear. Here's a video they made detailing all this.

 

 

64 Audio's three-way design of the A12 uses four high, four midrange, and four low frequency drivers. The drivers are carefully aligned, and when combined with the passive crossover, produce a phase accurate sound to your ears. The A12 CIEMs reduce outside interference by 6dB to 26dB according to the company, and am assuming this is dependent on which ADEL module you choose. Noise isolation is -18dB with the supplied ADEL Auto Module within my set of A12. Another Module coming available will be adjustable and it has an intuitive dial that will give you the freedom to open and close it based on your listening preference. Frequency response is rates at 10Hz to 20 kHz and the amplifier is presented with a common-sense 16 Ohm load. A maximum output of up to 117dB can be achieved, which is extremely loud IMHO yet it is always good to have extra headroom versus operating the 12 driver's at their maximum; as this would cause unwanted distortion. Casing material is hypoallergenic hard acrylic and the A12 comes with a 30 day fit warranty and two year overall warranty on parts and labor.

A standard ADEL module is included, with other modules being available to the public shortly. On the 64 Audio A12 as reviewed here, you can see the silver-colored metal ADEL module. You simply pull it out and can easily replace it with a different module. Thus there's no need to send your 64 Audio in-ear monitors to be modified, plus you can swap out modules to suit your listening preference whenever you wish. It took the company over seven years of IEM design to reach where they are today. Their 'revolutionary' ADEL technology ensures that the 12 drivers work together with the goal of achieving the very best sound possible. All 64 Audio custom IEMs are carefully hand-built from your ear impressions, which as I said before are 3D scanned and then computer optimized. One of the things I love about CIEMs is that they are, by their nature, noise cancelling and thus outside interference (noise) is highly reduced. This is great during normal listening of course, plus as a world traveler I find that my ears do not feel fatigued by the constant drone of the jet engines, babies crying, the guy next to me snoring, etc. Those of you who are frequent fliers know the benefits of reducing outside noises during long hauls in the tuna can.

The fit and finish are first-rate and 64 Audio's A12 have a far slimmer main body sticking outside of my ear as the Noble Kaiser 10 (K-10, $1599 in basic form, or much more with my Italian rose gold custom design). Instead of being a large housing as with the K-10 and 10 drivers internally, 64 Audio's A12 packs everything including the 12 drivers very neatly inside the small housing and they weight about 30% less than the K-10. Would give you a breakdown in grams, yet my high-precision scale is packed in a box as we're prep'ing to move to new digs by a West coast beach. Visually, the 64 Audio A12 CIEMs look to be about 30% smaller than the K-10 (sorry and all, am not going to do a displacement test to give exact figures). While the Noble K-10 can be visual works of art with a vast array of designs as your deep wallet permits, 64 Audio has a wide selection of slid colors and premium outer 'faceplates' to choose from including set designs or wood types. One thing I love about the 64 Audio CIEMs is that you can specify tight-fitting recessed sockets or the basic fitting for two-pin cables. The tighter recessed socket is excellent for those who work out or are active when wearing their CIEM. The reasons for bringing up the Noble K-10 is that it has 10 drivers and, as you'll soon learn, sounds like a close cousin of the 64 Audio A12 with 12 drivers. Ok, enough with the tekkie stuff and let's get to how the 64 Audio A12 CIEMs produce my fave tunes.

 

With 200 Hours Of Break-In
When first receiving the A12 CIEMs they were more than just a bit bright in the midrange frequencies. The one thing I'm finding, in general, with portable audio devices is that they need 200 hours to settle in. After 100 hours the 64 Audio A12 were sounding better, and at the 200 hour mark I was ready to begin reviewing. For those curious, the first hours I tend to feed devices with classical music that slowly rises and falls. At the 50 hour mark we move to the rock music by The Eagles. It moves to Rush until about 150 hours, and finally to Dubstep and Kraftwerk or other Tisto-like music. So now we're at 200 hours and the midrange has settled in nicely, with the bass being more uniform and highs now extending smoothly. The midrange has been brought to a more balanced level as well. I did cable swap between the stock 64 Audio wires and my fave Double Helix Symbiote SP 8 silver Litz. I'll let the cat out of the bag here and now by saying that the difference in sound with these cables was more obvious than the difference between the A12 and K-10... up to a point.

64 Audio's A12 are without a doubt reference quality. Accuracy reigns supreme as you have a very clear window into the music without harmonic editorializing. One of the things I enjoy from time to time is this bit of musically rich editorializing with the Sony NW-ZX2, which is largely absent with the Questyle QP-1R. Frankly, am beginnin' to feel more like an audio chef with mixing and matching CIEMs, cables and playback devices. Each one has a personality and excels in certain aspects. Longtime portable audio enthusiasts can relate as depending on your mood and/or the music, you grab the combination of gear that best suits your desires. It also makes it tough for a reviewer to give you exact descriptions of how a product produces sound as with the simple substitution of a cable or  digital audio player (DAP) 'the game' changes to some extent.

O... k.... with that now off my chest here's what I'm hearing. 64 Audio's A12 offer a highly precise rending of the music. Whilst as of this writing, with over 400 hours of use, there is still a tiny touch of augmented midrange centered at around 3kHz. It is like adding a very small dash of a certain spice into cooking, to bring just a hint more of that flavor. The result, audibly, is that since most acoustic music lives within the midrange you get the sound of more attack and hear more performance hall decay. Snare drums have a bit more snap, violins have a touch more sing and heavy metal guitars have more bite versus low-end growl. Those of you with the Sony NW-ZX2 might like this bit of spice whereas with the Questyle QP-1R it might over-flavor things. Of course you can EQ this to your liking, yet the moment I begin reviewing with adjusting (skewing) EQ per each device under test (DUT) the results are invalid as one needs to keep a constant and only change the specific DUT (OMG that sounded sooo geeky scientific). Still, the point is valid and just wanted to make you aware of things on my end, and to be fair to all devices that arrive here that they are on equal footing. And since I mentioned decay...

The A12 CIEMs have an excellent, smooth and even decay in volume as recorded within the music. They are very quick to respond to initial attack and can stop on a dime too. Explosive cymbal hits shimmer impressively and fall off smoothly. Overall, the dynamics are reference quality and inner resolution being amongst the very best I have heard to date with CIEMs. Soundscape width and depth are very good, with the music sounding slightly in front of your ears yet (mainly) before your nose extends outward from your face. As a comparo, the Noble K-10 seems to have their sound a tiny bit further back into your head. It is always interesting how different IEMs and headphones create a slightly different 'physical' perspective of the main front soundscape.

64 Audio A12 Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs)

Highs are nicely smooth, extended and clean. As I said previously, the 64 Audio A12 CIEMs are without a doubt reference quality. Precision reigns supreme here. Since I've already written about the midrange, let's move on to the lower regions of the audio frequency. Midbass is nicely balanced within the overall frequency spectrum, with the Noble K-10 having a bit more grunt and electric guitar growl. The deepest bass, below 55Hz, is not quite as robust as the K-10. Maybe it is due to 64 Audio's ADEL reducing the air pressure wave? Perhaps, as there is deep bass yet it simply does not seem to move as much 'air' to lock-in to your ear drum. Those of you with immense home audio subwoofers or that go clubbing might better understand it if I say it is the difference between having deep bass (64 Audio A12) and those home systems/clubs that have deep bass that feels like it has a solid grip on the air pressure that causes physical sensations (Noble K-10). There is more to this story, too. Have not seen any studies that specifically target how such deep bass renders ear drum movement and how that may contribute to one's hearing loss. Furthermore, as a 1980/1990 car audio 'Bass Head' there I have music by TechmasterP.E.B., Bass 305, etc that has an abundance of electronic bass below 40Hz. While virtually never naturally occurring within acoustic music, with the exception of pipe organ, today's electronic music does have such frequencies.

 

Do Not Do This!!!
The plot thickens as during this comparo between the Noble K-10 and 64 Audio A12 it is when prominent amounts of extremely deep bass occurs that, if you dare to turn up the volume to high levels, the K-10 then sounds as though the driver's produce distorted sound. Am hypothesizing that there is an overload within air/ear drum movements that thus cause the overall sound pressure to 'collide' within your ear/hearing structure. Perhaps it is the human ear drum's lack of ability to properly respond to all frequencies when large deep bass movements lock into the human hearing system? Please do not try this yourself and never for an extended period of time!!! When I remove the K-10's slightly they seem to sound fine, so am assuming it is an ear drum thing yet without precise measurement gear it is hard to confirm my findings and, even then, how can we guarantee that the measurement gear is exactly the same as that of the human hearing system is all aspects?

Sometimes being a reviewer, literally, is a dangerous job. Not just with hearing damage or testing the limits of a component, as over the years have broken toes on hefty amplifiers, threw out my back moving gear, etc. When it comes to causing actual (and quite permanent) hearing damage is when one should clearly and precisely state that we're getting close to the edge of actual harm. So be careful when using Noble K-10 and deep electronic bass at extremely high volume levels, as it might feel good at first yet am not sure of the long-term effects. This is where the ADEL part of 64 Audio comes into play as it does do as they claim, which is to reduce the physical air pressure of deep bass as it affects your ear drums. It might also be protecting your hearing too! Another benefit, there is no ear drum or ??? 'lockup' and thus no matter how loud I was willing to push the audio envelope the sound never became congested. Oh the things we reviewers do with devices under test. Again, please, pretty please with sugar on top and a cherry; do not try this deep bass test yourself. Again, DO NOT DO THIS!!!

 

More Comparos
Right off the bat eliminated the JH Audio Roxanne CIEM, as they have great potential yet something seems to be holding them back. Someone please send me a better cable (all silver) so we can eliminate those bass adjusters plus have a higher quality signal transfer. JH Audio 13 (non-freq phase) are very good yet fall short of being reference level for one seeking the ultimate without regards to pricing. My now highly aged Ultimate Ears UE18 Pro is very accurate yet is not quite up to the 12-driver 64 Audio A12 or Noble K-10 with 10 drivers when it comes to delivering all frequencies. As I hear it, the A12 are more mastering engineer accurate whereas the K-10 are more audiophile-like enjoyable. Interesting, as have said the same thing about the Questyle QP-1R digital audio player (accurate) versus the Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 (musical). Yeah yeah, those are generalizations and as we know all generalizations are wrong.

Remember earlier within the review I talked about being a chef and adding a smidge more of spice? Well then, here's where it gets interesting as the Noble K-10 go well with both the QP-1R and Sony NW-ZX2 whereas the A12 brings the Sony NW-ZX2 to a new level of refinement a bit closer to 'mastering accuracy' whereas with the QP-1R you seem to get a bit 'too much of a good thing'. With the stock A12 cable most definitely, with the Symbiote SP 8 pure silver Litz IEM cable it tames things up just a smidge while still giving great sound overall. Remember, I'm not going to adjust the EQ to skew the results and yes some adjusting of the EQ can then re-balance the A12's slight 3kHz bump. The Sony NW-ZX2 has a five-band EQ @ a crude 1dB per level plus 'Clear Bass' adjustment whereas the Questyle QP-1R with the latest firmware (1.02) has a more diverse 10-band EQ with refined 0.25dB increments.

64 Audio A12 Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs)

Am literally a bit perplexed what to say next so, &^<$ it here it goes. Both the 64 Audio A12 and Noble K-10 are excellent and I can't say one is better than the other. How does one define better? What are your preferences? What is/are your portable media player and cables? Look, there is no best so don't expect me to tell you which one is better for you without giving overall details of your use and preference.... and even then.... "Your spoon does not bend because it is just that, a spoon. Mine bends because there is no spoon, just my mind." The Matrix

Side Note: Noble recently wanted me to send them the K-10 for a photoshoot and there was no way I'd part with them. Not even for 'just' two weeks. Today, I feel the same way about the 64 Audio A12, yet having both here I can now let either go for a short period of time and happily live with the other. On the other hand, if you want to take them both away there's gonna be a fight!

 

Whatever Words I Say
This review has been one of the toughest to date. When one reaches a very high plateau, as a reviewer I begin to question the English language meaning of the words 'better,' 'preference,' and 'accurate'. That is a very high compliment to both of these CIEMs. 64 Audio's A12 are outstanding with their highly precise ability to deliver all that is within my digitized audio files. Having the recessed two-pin connector option keeps the cables firmly coupled to the CIEM's body, even during my most physically-challenging activities. Having the standard two-pin hookup means a wide variety of aftermarket cables will seamlessly work too. With the ADEL option on the A12, it provides an easy way to change how much air pressure and outside sound reaches my ears. No other in-ear monitor offers this user-friendly option and can be very useful at protecting your hearing too. As a drummer/percussionist, ADEL allows me to hear more of the band during live gigs or reduce outside interference of jet engine noise when flying on an airplane. One CIEM for both purposes!

64 Audio A12 Custom In-Ear Monitors (CIEMs)

Am at odds between my two top-line reference custom in-ear monitors and neither one is the best in all situations. Both are excellent, yet in different ways. Hopefully you didn't just skip down to the conclusion section here versus reading the full review. I'd say more, yet you really need to read the review. 64 Audio's A12 CIEMs are outstanding and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to review them. As much as universal fit in-ear monitors can be very good, IMHO they are only a fraction of what you hear when going the custom route. So what are you waiting for?

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Custom fit in-ear monitor (CIEM)
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 20 kHz
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Sensitivity: 116dB SPL @ 1mW
Noise Isolation: Adjustable via ADEL technology
Noise Isolation: -18dB with as supplied / stock ADEL Auto Module
Crossover: Three-way passive
Shell Material: Hypoallergenic hard acrylic
Warranty: 30 day fit guarantee and two years on parts and labor
Starting at: $1999, add $199 for different ADEL modules (pair)

 

Company Information
64 Audio
7025 North Lombard Street
Suite 100
Portland, OR 97203

Voice: (503) 746-8510
E-mail: info@1964ears.com
Website: www.1964ears.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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