The Natural Harmony!
PROS: beautiful design, choice of silicone or acrylic shell, smooth natural tonality, impressive bass performance, great pair up with different sources, very compact ciem shell.
CONS: custom only (no universal version), a rather polite treble extension.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
My introduction to CustomArt happened last year when I got an opportunity to test and to review their MassDrop special edition Ei.xx CIEM, covered in THIS write-up which also includes more info about the company. Ever since that review, I stayed in touch with Piotr, the creative force/mind behind CA, and always enjoyed our occasional email exchanges which I found to be very educational about IEM design. Even with success of Ei.xx Drops and the rising popularity of his original Harmony series which I’m sure keeps him busy, he was still always prompt with his replies and took his time to explain everything in details. While talking to other head-fiers, many shared a similar experience when dealing with Piotr where everyone was treated as VIP, not just “chosen” reviewers. This is important to know, to have a peace of mind that a company as small and young as CA stands behind their products and offers a quality support.
After my Ei.xx review, the two things that stood out for me the most were the comfort of the fit and the quality/quantity of the bass. Out of all CIEMs I have tested and reviewed so far, Ei.xx still holds the top spot in my book having one the most comfortable fit which Piotr got in one shot without any additional re-fits. The powerful impact of the bass was also a strong attribute of the sound tuning, but it left me hungry for a better top end extension and a little better retrieval of details. Though I wasn’t familiar at all with the original Harmony 8/8Pro CIEMs, based on other impressions my imagination ran wild fantasizing about a crossover between Ei.xx and Harmony 8 (something I even mentioned to Piotr) without realizing that Piotr was already making plans to turn this fantasy into reality. The result? A 2nd generation Harmony 8, in a form of a new Harmony 8.2 (H8.2) model I would like to share with you about after spending the last 3 weeks enjoying these beauties.
Unboxing and accessories.
Similar to a number of my recent reviews of other IEMs/CIEMs, H8.2 unboxing experience follows a minimalistic route where the emphasis is more on a product itself rather than the packaging. But it was still nice to see an actual cardboard box, though all black and plain without any labeling. Obviously you can’t put a specific picture since we are talking about CIEMs where you customize the shell to your liking, but perhaps printing a company name (in silver on black) with a spec list would be a nice touch to consider in order to personalize the packaging.
Inside, you will find a traditional Pelican 1010 micro case which, as many familiar with, provides a bullet proof protection. This case is bulky to carry in your pocket for everyday use, so Piotr also included a compact rectangular clam shell zippered case. It works great with H8.2 and its slim stock cable, but if you are planning to upgrade the cable to an aftermarket bulkier one, you will have to switch to Pelican case for extra room. My only comment here, Piotr really stepped it up in the design quality, and I would have loved to see a small foam insert with cutouts inside of the Pelican case to keep these CIEMs from banging against each other.
Along with both of the cases, you also get a traditional cleaning tool, a small dehumidifier container, and a folded welcome manual. I don’t believe anything else is really necessary, and I can’t think of any other must have accessory, maybe a piece of a branded soft cloth to wipe/clean the shells.
Included is just a generic stock OFC cable with a slim 90deg rubbery connector housing, a nice strain relief, and a standard 3.5mm TRS gold plated plug. A rubbery y-splitter mold is also surrounded by a nice strain relief and a chin slider is just a piece of a clear plastic tube with a decent sliding friction. Going up to a standard 2pin connectors, marked accordingly with red/blue dots to ID corresponding Right/Left sides, you have a typical flexible memory wire with a clear flexible tube over it forming a hook you can shape to your liking.
The wires have a nice tight rubbery coating, making cable very pliable, easy to manage when wrapped for storage, and free of microphonics. Wires going up to earpieces were tightly twisted, while going down after y-splitter, the ground wires were combined and all 3 were twisted down to 3.5mm plug. I know, this is just a basic generic cable, but it felt durable and reminded me of Westone Epic cable quality. Even so ground wires were combined, I went back’n’forth with some of my other OFC cables with 4 separate conductors and haven’t noticed too much difference.
Unlike Ei.xx where from day one I switched stock cable to BaX (a must have in that case) and never looked back, here with H8.2 I actually enjoyed the stock cable performance and found its pair up to be quite good. Testing it with pure silver cable (TWag) didn’t yield a huge improvement, but I did notice changes on a level where I hear bass being a little tighter and even a bit more articulate. Upper mids got a bit brighter but the level of detail retrieval didn’t change drastically. Also, I didn’t hear a significant change in treble.
I wasn’t too crazy about Pure Copper (TWcu) or Litz SPC (BaX and other SPC cables) either since they affected the quality and quantity of the bass, and made upper mids a bit grainy, not as smooth anymore. Gold plated silver (TWau) was also surprisingly not the best match since the bass became more neutral and upper mids even gained a shade of a metallic sheen. All this cable replacement testing was done using PAW Gold, making sure I was feeding H8.2 with the best source in my current possession.
Though I like to bring up the cable replacement and document the sound changes I hear and to encourage to experiment with cable rolling you have access to, with H8.2 it’s not really necessary to spend extra money on replacement cable since I found a stock one to do the job.
With Whiplash TWag v3 (modular).
I typically limit the design section of my reviews to a description of the shell exterior and the partitioning of drivers inside, but here it’s going to be a longer story. Up until being introduced to Harmony series, I wasn’t even aware that CIEMs could be made out of a material other than acrylic. The only exception was ES60 with an acrylic shell and a silicone nozzle which is kind of stiff to begin with and then body-heat activated to soften and to form a better seal after I put them in my ears. CustomArt offers an option to have the entire shell made out of silicone material. It’s definitely rare and probably requires more work to manufacture, but it also beneficial for those who find acrylic shell to be too hard and want to have a better comfort wearing customs.
Piotr surprised me at first with a set of silicone H8.2, definitely one of a kind experience putting these semi-soft shell molds in my ears. Unfortunately, my ears weren’t exactly “jelling” with a silicone shell, even after an extended wear time while using proper ear lubricants. After a week I noticed less friction, but still felt a bit uncomfortable, obviously a matter of personal preference. I do realize, there are many happy Harmony 8/8Pro users who wouldn’t trade their silicone shell for anything else, and it’s nice that CustomArt offers both options, but I wish they would also offer a universal acrylic model. Many people are still anxious to commit to Customs, and Universal version takes some of the commitment pressure off.
The first pair of silicone H8.2 I received looked very exotic with a swirling color design. CustomArt website offers a choice of 40 different shell colors under silicone finish, and I’m sure you can customize it further by contacting Piotr. For example, the sample I received had a combination of two different swirling colors. Since a silicone shell turned out to be not my cup of tea, Piotr kindly offered an acrylic shell replacement, but I didn’t realize how much surprise I was in for. When I received and took out of the case the next review pair of H8.2, I was mesmerized by the black and gold swirls of the acrylic shell, a rich combination with deep colors and a beautiful Cocobolo real wood veneer faceplate. When designing the acrylic shell, CustomArt website tool offers a choice of 10 predefined solid/transparent shell colors, with an option for a custom one, 10 different solid/transparent faceplate colors, and a choice of either body matching or transparent blue/red canal part (good idea for a quick id of L/R sides), and of course the option of transparent color is also available. On top of that, you have a choice of 24 (!!!) real wood beautiful veneer faceplates.
H8.2 shells I received were not selected by me personally, but I absolutely love the design and wish Piotr would setup a gallery page with pictures of his artwork to give people some ideas for inspiration. At the same time, while picture is worth a thousand words, you have to actually feel the smooth finish of the shell to appreciate the new processing technique Piotr implemented which achieves near glass-like smooth finish of the acrylic shell. The design was an absolute smooth perfection. I went with my finger a dozen of times over the area where faceplate joins the shell and it feels like one solid piece. Toward the inside on the surface of the shell, there is a model marking in red/blue which helps to id the sides, though obviously you can’t mistake right for left when putting these in your ears. The shell finish continuous throughout a nozzle, matching the rest of the shell, even across the nozzle tip where you will find 4 bores, each connected to corresponding dual low, dual full range, dual mids, and dual tweeter drivers under partitioning of 4way cross-over in a single phase config. The 2pin connector socket was non-recessed, and also across the faceplate my review pair had “The Custom Art” on one side and “Harmony 8.2” on the other side in gold letters, and I’m sure you can ask Piotr about the custom artwork.
Another thing that stood out for me was an incredibly slim shell design. We are talking about 8-BA drivers in a shell that was flush with my ear. By nature of Custom design, it’s uncomfortable to lay down with your head on the pillow wearing CIEMs because of the nozzle being deep inside of your ear canal, but I honestly didn’t expect such a slim profile for a shell hosting 8 Balanced Armature drivers and cross-over. Since the shell wasn’t transparent, it’s hard to tell how everything is arrangement inside, but one thing Piotr mentioned – there was a clear transparent silicone filling inside of the acrylic shell. As I just learned, silicone acts as a suspension (damping) for drivers, reducing their ringing. In order to match audio performance of silicone vs acrylic shells, acrylic body of the shell was filled with silicone to achieve the same working condition for drivers.
The acrylic shell fit was perfect, and due to a very smooth finish and shorter nozzle (to match the “design” of my picky earcanal), it took me a minimum effort to insert H8.2 in my ears which felt almost like Universal fit. I still needed a small “corkscrew” turn to insert them in, but was able to take them out without too much of a reverse turn. Furthermore, the isolation was on a level of decent earplugs. On a few occasions while using H8.2 at work I kept them in my ears even without playing music, just like a custom earplug.
The fit (silicone and acrylic).