I really need to go to Oregon someday. A lot of my favorite audio gear is sold there by one vendor or another. There are amps from ALO Audio, decoders and even more amps from Cypher Labs and now customs from 1964EARS. I can vision an audiophile Oregon right now in my mind; no talking just amping and cans and customs. It literally could be the quietest loud state in the US with charging USB ports instead of fire hydrants. It is a musical bliss that only my mind is capable off and darn sometimes I wish it was true if only for a few minutes.
Getting back to a no less exciting reality with the launch of 1964EARS’ top of the line V8 customer IEM and we were lucky to go right through the entire experience with the kind support of our local dealers, Polaris Audio Design, in Makati and Caesar’s Palace in Hong Kong. Like the Heir Audio 8.0 we just reviewed last week, the 1964EARS is packing no less than 8 balanced armature drivers in each earpiece coupled to a three-way crossover and all packed in a custom shell of your choice and tagged with a 2 year warranty.
The V8 is technically their flagship however the purchasing choice is not strictly linear as in V2, V3, V6 then V8. If you fancy the V6 or the V6 Stage and you buy the V8 thinking it is more of the same but at a higher level then you will very much mistaken. The V8 was made for a purpose and that was a top end custom for the audiophile bass heads. The closest in their range to the V8 would probably be the Qi edition which sells for $549 but it only packs 4 drivers, or half of the V8. The Vanilla edition V8 (no extras or customization) also sells right now for just $899. In comparison to similar custom setups that is incredibly competitive also. Heir Audio’s universal 8.0 (8 driver) starts at a healthy $1099 for example and further up Unique Melody’s 10 driver Mentor kicks in at $1499 right up to Vision Ears and their eye watering $2300 6 driver VE6 X Control custom IEM. The closest to the V8 in terms of target market and tuning might be considered the Merlin from UM at $879, but even then this is a hybrid dynamic and 4 BA so quite a different setup. Even the ever popular JH Audio’s JH16, which also packs 8 drivers, starts at $1149. You get where I am going? Yup, the V8 from 1964EARS is probably the best value custom on the market right now.
The funky 1964EARS website
I have to give special mention to 1964EARS’ website which does the majority of the business for them in terms of marketing and ordering. This is one clever site, probably the best I have seen yet in terms of features, eye catching UI and customer focus. The designer section is pure genius. Even if I wasn’t immediately buying I was playing with the CIEM model designing variation after variation just to see what they might look like. If you are like me and can never decide what design looks right for you then features like this can really open you mind up to possibilities just through trial and error. I remember going for my first custom a few years back with Unique Melody and having to ask the UM staff to show me galleries for inspiration. Now I found one and still love it but the fact that its already out there and I copied it means it is not totally unique.
Another great feature of the designer section is that every option automatically calculates your final price so you can chop and change to fit your budget before you go to order. I think this is quite an important aspect of custom ordering, watching that price because you can ‘nickel and dime’ your budget to death with all the limitless options and rush processing if you are not careful. By clicking on most of the expensive options I was able to move from the standard $899 to a much more alarming $1354.00. Options like premium plates, longer cables, glitter, logos or custom artwork all have micro fees and if you want to push your ticket number up the line and get them faster than anyone else than yes that’s a small fee also. It is a very transparent process though and the choice always remains 100% with you which is a huge positive. Other sites such as UM document the options also but from a drop down list and don’t actually let you really see your final product in the same compelling manner as the V8 designer section.
Beyond your order you also get a nice customer account section that shows how your order is progressing and what the current status is which I find really assuring given my utter impatience on things like this. Current turnaround time is listed at 4 weeks which is down about 1-2 weeks when I placed my order earlier in the year due to the initial buzz and heavy duty order processing when the V8 was initially launched.
The challenge of ‘try before you buy’
The tricky thing about customs is how do you actually try before you buy? I mean after all the end product is a unique custom for your ear only so it is not like you can just pop down to your local audio store and buy one. I mentioned previously with the Heir Audio 8.0 universal review that this “instant gratification” appeal can detract from diving into the customs experience. Luckily these days you can get some sort of understanding of the basic tonality and response with customs as more and more dealers roll out “demo units”. These are basically much like the Heir Audio 8.0 and look like customs but with a more universal fitting and a set of ear tips to finish the seal off. Normally demos will have roughly around 80% of the performance of the final product to there is an element of caveat emptor with demo units. In fact some dealers go to great lengths to point out which brands have similar performance to the final product and which of them are a long way off. .
I was lucky enough get a demo unit of the V8 before I went for the full custom process which, much like the Heir Audio 8.0, is a very nice comfortable fit. With added comply tips I got around 70-80% of the seal of my final personalized V8 also which was a bonus. Certainly the demo units are not cheap clones with minimal seal, they do a very nice job of giving you a visual pitch of what you will get for your money and aurally they come in a few notches below the final presentation both in terms of weight slam, extension and sound stage but the tonality is about right actually. So when you slap on a custom demo unit just remember what you should be hearing tonally is about right but the immersion and engagement of the final custom unit is going to be so much better. Especially, if like me, you prefer the professional artist style fitting which is basically a long nozzle. It is a tighter fit and harder to get in and out than the relaxed shorter nozzle fitting but personally I find the trade of really worth it.
My first ear impression run was in 2011 for the UM Merlin in one of our local hearing aid companies and to be honest everything went without a hitch. Same also with the Minerva’s when we did a review late 2013 but I noticed that progressively the impressions I was taking where getting a little tight and more challenging on my crooked narrower left ear canal. Luckily 1964EARS didn’t have an issue with the set of impressions I took earlier this year but the clay was non expandable and after a chat last month with Polaris Studio I can definitely say there are various qualities of clay used by audiologists and the fact is some are simply better than others for getting good quality acrylic customs. This is of particular note if you are going to be shipping them direct to someone like 1964EARS or simply across city from one place to another. What they get out of the box maybe not what you packaged or came out of your ear due to the quality of the clay being used.
Above is how the inferior clay arrived with a squished canal – sadness.
How to pack your clay and what to look for
They say ignorance is bliss but after a recent failed ear impression acceptance by another company I thought I better go for an upgrade here so it arrives intact and in the best possible shape. After a few chats the name that cropped up both from the vendor in Germany and the 1964EARS dealer was Detax Audio silicone. Note by the way the vendor who confirmed this was not 1964EARS (they could recommend it though) so this is not a plug for 1964EARS just a recommendation based on personal experience. Regardless of whether the customs company asks you for a closed or open ear impression it is vitally important to get a good cured full ear impression beyond the second bend of the ear canal. Materials that are resistant to tearing, can cure quickly but accurately and can have a decent level of pressure build up (expand) will give you the best replication of your ear. Prices of ear impressions vary greatly so luckily here they cost around $15-20. Elsewhere it can cost $50 upwards so it pays to research what clay your audiologist is using and if they have ever done a set for customs before. I have done around 7 to date and the last one using Detax Audio Green Eco silicone mix was the best to date with some nice detail, full length and not a tear in site.
Getting them to the customs company such as 1964EARS is either done through your local dealer or you can ship them directly. Through the dealer is usually my preferred option given the expense of having them shipped and the packing pains. However if you want to go it solo then here are some worthwhile tips from my own experience.
1. Ear impressions can take some knocks and rolls and not get broken or deformed (depending on your clay used).
2. Using a zip lock bag with air filled it a nice convenient first layer to put your impressions in. I put in two loosely crumpled tissues also just to slow down any excessive movement but not enough to put any pressure on the impressions themselves.
3. IMPORTANT cotton wool packed impressions is possible but beware this might be too snug and end up adding pressure to the ear impressions during shipping. Pressure will deform your impression fast and that’s the end of that.
4. Buy a small hard food case and put the zip locked ear impressions in and seal tightly. Then wrap the case in a few layers of bubble wrap. Nothing more is needed. The hard food container plus bubble wrap is more than enough.
5. Lastly use a tracking service from the courier of your choice. It might cost a bit more but it is very much worth it to know your impressions arrived quickly and safely.
The final product
The ducks behind
All being well then after 4-6 weeks your final customized unit should arrive and fit perfectly. If you try opening and closing your mouth and you have no loss of seal then you can relax, that is how they are supposed to work. If they don’t you have a 30 day free refit option from 1964EARS and beyond that a 2 year warranty so do not fret. My own V8’s arrived just as I wanted them with a nice long nozzle and a super tight fit that seals like a ducks ass in water. The seal was about 20% tighter than the UM Merlins and the same fit as the Minerva Mi-Pro artist which to date has been my best seal to date. They did apply a touch more pressure on the upper concha near the cable insert if I tried to fit them even 1mm out from their preferred insertion angle. However once in correctly there was no give whatsoever even with any open jaw eating movement, sudden head movement or my usual party trick, the individual ear movement.
The V8 hip with a single set of lightweight tightly braided stock cables that are thankfully memory free and easy to manipulate. They can come in either 48″ or 64″ depending on your needs though they can be a little tight after the y split depending your head or neck size. These cables are stock with a capital ‘S’ to be honest with you quality wise. I have seen these cables many times before fitted onto the likes of Westone, Unique Melody and a few others. Whilst I would not want to state they are EPIC clones and they are indeed quite comfortable, they really do not add much to the equation other than allowing sound to move from your DAP to the driver. They are good enough to get you started but a cable upgrade is recommended to maximize the potential of the V8’s. Currently I am using Whiplash Elite Twag V2 recessed Westone 2 pin cable for these V8’s and pretty happy with that combination.
The rest of the accessory package is very impressive indeed. Probably one of the most comprehensive packages I have seen to date for a custom IEM. Ironically they use the same S3 Cases T2000 twin lock model as Heir Audio for storing the V8. Unlike Heir Audio’s 8.0 the 1964EARS case has an internal foam divider which I found very useful for unexpected movement and organization. You also get a quarter jack, a shirt clip and a cleaning tool neatly tucked into the foam inserts. The outside of the case can also be customized with a nice 3m style label engraving of whatever you want, usually your name, in military style large font and the 1964EARS logo/website above your name. It is a unique but tasteful afterthought and adds a bit more character to the final product.