Sound Impressions

Tonality

The Harmony 8.2 is not so much of an upgrade but rather almost a totally new experience with a slither of the original Harmony. I described the original Harmony 8 in 2015 as having a bountiful full bodied midrange with a pacey impactful bass response and a very relaxed treble performance all neatly tucked into an impressively deep and wide soundstage. The 8.2 has livened up the musicality of the Harmony 8 by adding even more body to the low end, particularly its sub-bass performance and just easing back a little on the lower mids and pushing forward the vocals instead.

Compared to the original this new 8.2 sounds more dynamic, a little more intimate in some respects with the vocal presence heightened and most importantly it has treble with a more noticeable brilliance over the 8. I never tested the 8 Pro but if the 8.2 pulls back the quantity and forwardness of the treble then I have to say that is a wise decision. I always admired the easy laid back tonality of the Harmony 8 so the 8.2 is more aggressive in that respect but thankfully the treble performance is still relatively easy on the ear.

Tonally I referenced the Harmony 8 original to a pre-Fazor LCD-2 type sound in respect to the shelved down treble performance. In many respects, the Harmony 8.2 is now closer to the Rev 2 pre-Fazor sound, with its snappier top end, and the original Harmony 8 is really that darker original LCD-2 when first launched. This is still a natural sounding CIEM with a dash of warmth, just this time you have a more satisfying top end response and with it some welcome headroom.

Bass

Sub-bass

The key difference between the 8 and the 8.2 is impact and increased sub-bass presence in the performance of the 8.2; it is just so much better than previously. Bass on the 8 was actually pretty good, to be honest with a snappy and tactile response but it didn’t have a huge amount of emphasis. A lot of people will actually stick with that on a preference basis but if you are looking for an additional bit of depth and kick then the 8.2 is going be a better proposition. I suspect there is somewhere around a 2-3dB upswing on the sub-bass response especially sub 60Hz providing an increased sense of power when called upon.

Mid-Bass

Mid-bass stays relatively fulsome with good body and nice impact right up to around 250hZ which it starts dropping off into the lower midrange. This gives the 8.2 an additional level of slam over the 8 and a nice warm sheen to it but nothing muddy or soft. Fundamentals on the 8.2 are more convincing for me than the 8 and that drop post 250Hz keeps a reasonable amount of clarity without any bleed into the mids.

Mids

Balance

In its own right, if you are hitting the Harmony range for the first time the midrange of the 8.2 is actually nicely balanced, natural sounding and with very little in the way of excessive peaks or drops. In comparison to the 8 the midrange on the Harmony 8.2 is still as full-bodied and musical sounding but this time, there is an increased and slightly more forward vocal presence that makes a big difference in presentation. In some ways it is less dark, marginally more intimate but almost certainly more dynamic and energetic sounding than the 8.

Better Vocals

That lack of reach I found on the older 8 for female vocals of the ethereal type (e.g. Enya) is overcome somewhat sounding more convincing and clearer on the 8.2. I still think those vocals do better on thinner signatures as they need a more edge to the attack that the Harmony 8.2 doesn’t really offer but it is certainly a superior tuning this time round.

That little upswing in the upper mids of the 8.2 is noticeable bringing some welcome energy to the 8.2 vocal performance. It is not excessive however meaning percussion is natural sounding but lacking a little in attack. This pretty much means you will get an unobtrusive percussion performance lacking in sibilance but lacking a little bit of sparkle. If you are coming from the 8 though its additional energy, additional sparkle, and additional bite. Everything is in degrees of context here folks.

Treble

Extension

Treble on the 8.2 is cleaner, more forward sounding and with improved extension than the old 8. Clarity has definitely increased but sensibly Piotr has ensured it is not so peaky to sound harsh or bright. In fact, if I never heard the 8 at all I would call the treble performance of the 8.2 smooth and relaxed in deference to some other customs out there such as the VE6XC, more akin to the ADEL A12 profile as a point of reference.

Brilliance

Having said that lower treble is a little muted in comparison to its brilliance range where the greatest amount of sparkle and energy resides. I have always preferred my upper treble to have more sparkle than anything peaky in the lower treble, far less distracting and fatiguing.

Soundstage

Initially, I was actually quite pleased with the 8 performance in staging but as time wore on and ever increasing comparisons done I found it just a little lacking in dynamics and air, to say the least. This is one area the 8.2 tackles quite well. Staging on the 8.2 is taller and deeper than the old 8 with better imaging and extension in both directions.

I would, however, say that the more engaging and forward vocal presence keeps the 8.2 overall a relatively close up experience in comparison to the likes of the big sounding Fidue A91 or the VE6XC. Width in comparison though is actually very good but it is not the most holographic of presentations out there and whilst separation is natural and realistic sounding to my ears it lacks some of the space that some hybrids can deliver.

Again in degrees of context for a wholly BA design compared to the likes of Andromeda’s world class treble response it lacks a little air right at the very top but against similarly priced customs such as the W300Ar and the SA-43 I found the staging to be wider and deeper sounding given that increased treble presence and sub-bass performance.

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Matchability

Efficiency

The Harmony 8.2 is rated 15 ohms and 118dB which is way more efficient than the older Harmony 8 which was rated at 50 ohms and 107dB. There is good and bad on that depending on where you are coming from. Hiss is now a factor where it was not before. Not all amplification stages will offer a noise free black background with the new 8.2 whereas the Harmony 8 was pretty rock solid with most credible sources and portable amp stages.

On the flip side though the new Harmony 8.2 is much easier to drive from a wider range of weaker amping sources and will sound the more attention grabbing of the two side by side. Unless driven well the Harmony 8 will basically sound a bit less dynamic out of most low voltage amp stage. Those with smartphones will be able to drive the new 8.2 better, those with mid-fi DAPs will cope just fine with the 8.2. Decent DAP’s such as the FiiO X7 and Cayin i5 all run the Harmony 8.2 happily with at least 4-5 digital volume steps lower than the original Harmony 8.

Tonal Pairing

Tonally there are a few sources and amps I preferred with the 8.2 for matching purposes. That higher rated efficiency spec pretty much meant I was hunting for equally efficient setups that avoided throwing out high levels of hiss as well as keep the response clean and clear.

Shozy Alien Gold

The warmish undertones of the Harmony 8.2 and its more expansive bass performance are excellent but I didn’t feel that I would get the best out of the matching with an already warm sounding DAP outside of the Shozy Alien. Just to note the Alien silver will hiss with the Harmony 8.2, unlike the older 8 50 ohm edition which kept hiss to a minimum. If you want to pair with the Alien get the Gold Edition which is a much quieter pairing. Also, given the greater efficiency, you will find that that instead of pushing up from the stock volume setting you will be clicking down instead on the Alien.

As before this is a fabulously musical pairing with a lush yet balanced midrange and a very smooth treble performance. It even adds some depth to the more lateral leaning staging of the 8.2 and those tweaked forward vocals of the 8.2 play right into the hands of the Alien Gold. If you like liquid mids, smooth and rich vocals then grab this pairing. Not the last word in detail or extension so those looking to maximize that sub-bass performance might be better suited to other DAPs but for relaxed listening, I can’t find anything better at this price range.

Opus#1 & Sony ZX2

DAPs such as the Opus#1 and the Sony ZX2 brought a cleaner more neutral sounding tonal pairing with the Harmony 8.2. The Opus#1 was the slightly smoother of the two but lacked a little in musicality and dynamics compared to the Alien producing an altogether flatter pairing that lost a little of that sub-bass presence that the 8.2 can deliver.

The Zx2 has a higher noise level than the Opus#1 so you will find higher levels of background hiss during quieter moments. Tonally the ZX2 brings out the 8.2’s sub bass performance more than the Opus#1 and is a touch more neutral and darker sounding but with fantastic resolution and clarity. Both have excellent staging qualities but the additional depth provided by the Sony ZX2/8.2 bass performance is the better pairing for me.

FiiO X7

If you are pairing with the FiiO X7 it will be amp module dependent with the AM2 providing the best power to noise balance over the IEM module which is a touch too neutral and flat sounding or the AM5 which introduces a bit too much noise. The AM2 pairing produced a nice musical focus with better sub-bass performance than either the Alien or the Opus#1. The AM3 is the smoothest sounding of the 3 but does have a touch of hiss in both single ended and balanced mode though it is fairly low in presence.

Cayin i5 & Shanling M5

These two DAP’s brought out the musical side of the 8.2 for me with an increased bass presence over the likes of the FiiO X7, Opus#1 and the Alien. Of the two the Cayin i5 is the warmer and smoother with a slightly softer attack than the cleaner and slightly thinner sounding M5. Both have no issues driving the 8.2 but unlike the old 8 both display a slightly higher noise levels with detectable levels of hiss now and then, more so with the Shanling M5 than the Cayin i5. Vocals on the Cayin i5 are richer and fuller sounding than the M5. In return though the M5 has a bit more forward emphasis on vocals with the 8.2 making them sound a bit more prominent than the i5. Put it this way. Dusty Springfield on the i5 and Talking Heads on the M5, clear now?

Select Comparisons

M-Fidelity SA-43

Workmanship

The Sa-43 is a quad BA CIEM retailing for around $800 and are made by M-Fidelity. They also use silicone infused acrylics shells like Custom Art and are a boutique business much like Custom Art. They are a little less prolific than they used to be and the SA-43 is still their flagship.

Compared to the 8.2 the workmanship is a few rungs lower though the fit and seal are on par with the Harmony 8.2. To be honest it is not the quality of the shells that makes it a few rungs down just the lack of imagination in the design more than anything, otherwise, it is a fantastic fit with a nice pro seal. This is also a less efficient CIEM at 50 ohms and 104dB so it will need a touch more juice than the newer 8.2 but does suffer from less hiss and lower noise levels over a greater range of efficient amps and sources.

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Tonality

Tonally the Sa-43’s big trick is the adjustable presentations due to their switching filters giving no less than three different independently controlled tonal profiles. Switches off and the Sa-43 is largely neutral sounding and balanced throughout the frequency. With the bass boost switch activated you get decent sub-bass presence but a darker presentation and an attenuated top end more akin to the Harmony 8.

With the mid-presence switch on, the SA-43 vocals are more forward but sound unnatural compared to the Harmony 8.2’s richer and smoother timbre and vocal presence. With both switches on you get a more dynamic response but the midrange is just a little flat again compared to the more natural-sounding 8.2. Soundstage is good on the SA-43 for a quad BA and superior to the W300AR and 64 Audio V but the Harmony 8.2 has more width and depth and slightly better separation.

AAW W300AR

Workmanship

AAW’s W300AR is a hybrid dynamic, dual BA $800 custom built and shipped out of Singapore. The design and build of the W300AR are impeccable though they only offer in acrylic and no silicone options are available. The W300AR is also less efficient than the new Harmony 8.2 and also close to the old 8 with a rating of 45 ohms and 112dB. It will drive a little better though than the SA-43.

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Tonality

The original Harmony 8 has more in common with the W300AR in terms of that lovely midrange both are very capable of producing. However, the 8.2 pulls away from the W300AR in terms of sub-bass emphasis and a more dynamic vocal presence with better treble articulation and extension. The soundstage on the 8.2 is a touch bigger still than the W300AR. The W300AR, by the way, is a hybrid dynamic and dual BA so there are certain limitations compared to what 8 drivers can potentially do.

The Harmony 8 reminds me a lot of the AAW W300AR which also had a bigger focus on the mids and low end but the Harmony 8 has a slight edge in detail and definitely a larger sound stage than the W300AR. Both are good options for those chasing a better than average vocal presence but the Null Vitesse cable, good as it may be in its own right, is the wrong choice for the W300AR overall.

Fidue A91

Workmanship

At a very similar price point, this universal IEM is a hybrid single dynamic and quad BA and priced at $899. Naturally, the Harmony 8.2 has a superior fit over the universal A91 as well as a superior seal with its deeper custom fit insertion compared to the relaxed fitting of the A91. Both, however, are relatively sensitive, more so than the previously mentioned competing customs. The Fidue is rated at 20 ohms and 113dB and to all extents and purposes noise that shows up on the Harmony 8.2 will also show up on the A91. Both will drive equally well from similar sources, the rest is just tonal matching.

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Tonality

The A91’s has that sweet and beautiful sub-bass performance that even the Harmony 8.2 struggles to keep up with. It’s a dynamic driver so you get a slower but more natural sounding decay and response that just excels so well with pop, rap, EDM, and RnB. Sub bass on the Harmony 8.2 is much improved over the older versions but it’s still relatively polite in comparison.

The Harmony 8.2’s midrange is smoother and richer sounding than the A91 which tends to be a little bit cleaner and more neutral sounding in comparison. Notes are thicker sounding on the 8.2, in particular, heavy guitar and bass guitar work.

Treble on the A91 is cleaner, more forward but not as smooth as the 8.2. There is more bite in percussion work and a more sure-footed brilliance range on the A91 which combined with the superb bass performance gives the A91 staging a bit more depth than the 8.2. I can live with both pretty easily but if you want a handy guide then pick the A91 for electronic, modern pop and rap or pick the Harmony 8.2 for metal, rock, and indie.

Our Verdict

How you will view the 8.2 will largely depend on whether you are a previous owner of the 8 or the 8 Pro. It is indeed a 3rd way, a different tonal offering. It is brighter and more energetic than the 8 with better bass performance and a more articulate and forward treble response. Those in the 8 Pro camp might argue that it is a little darker, smoother and warmer than the Pro whose brilliance was quite forward by all accounts.

Perhaps it is best to approach the 8.2 as an entirely new custom monitor rather than simply say it is an evolution of the 8 or the 8 Pro.  If you do you will find it is a nicely detailed, smooth and natural sounding custom 8 BA driver with an impeccable design and wonderful fit and silicone build.

Do I prefer it to the older 8? The straight answer is yes, it has a lot more going for it and the vocal performance is much improved. Do I miss aspects of the older 8? Yes also. The greater efficiency of the 8.2 does mean it is slightly harder to match than before with noise becoming a factor. I did not get that with the older Harmony 8 but then again you do need more power with the older 8 to drive it properly.

So now you have a brand new Harmony 8.2 in the Harmony range from Custom Art and I think they do Piotr and the team at Custom Art plenty of justice. It also clearly shows the theme and Piotr’s vision of how the Harmony range should sound – musicality, detail, and a natural sounding presentation.

Price: Regular price of €1100 or €260 to upgrade from the Harmony 8 or 8 Pro

Harmony 8 Pro Technical Specifications

– 8 Balanced Armature
– 4way crossover in Single Phase configuration
– Dual Low, Dual Full-range, Dual Mid, Dual Tweeter
– 15 Ohm @1kHz
– 17,5 Ohm DC
– 10Hz-20000Hz (+-10dB into 711 ICE coupler)
– 118dB @1kHz @0.1V
– Damper-free design

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3 Responses

    • headfonics

      Hi Andrea
      Not had the privilege yet of having tried the Elear.

      However, one is a custom earphone and the other is circumaural dynamic headphone. Two very different things with very different system requirements.

      Reply

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