PROS: smooth natural tonality, powerful bass impact, apex module, LID tech, custom storage case.
CONS: custom fit only, benefits from a cable upgrade to make sound more revealing.
The product/loaner was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
You can say I was living under a rock, because when I heard about the introduction of 64 Audio first signature series model N8, I wasn’t too familiar with a name of Nathan East. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I thought to myself that I will Google his name to find out who he worked with so I can discover a new music to hear where the inspiration for N8 tuning came from. Imagine my surprise when I found that Nathan is a renowned session bassist who contributed to some of the biggest names in the music industry over the last 40 years, from Michael Jackson, to Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Elton John, Donna Summer, Lionel Richie, Cher, Kenny G, Celine Dion, Usher, Savage Garden, BB King, Beyonce, Seal, Michael Buble, Diana Krall, etc., and of course his contribution and performance on Random Access Memories album by Daft Punk.
I guess I wasn’t the only one, because even Nathan’s website mentions “You have been listening to Nathan East your entire life, but you just never knew it.” So true. Plus, knowing a background of the musician’s work can give you a good idea what to expect from the tuning of this CIEM. Another clue was the association with a model “8” which was known in the previous 64 Audio line up as the most basshead-friendly monitor. 64 Audio typically associates a model name with a number of drivers, while here it was a combination of various things. Since Nathan wanted more low end impact and less high-fi sound, association with previous “8” made sense, though this is a hybrid design with a single DD and 8 BAs, total of 9 drivers. And due to one tia driver, originally it was N8t, but got renamed to N8 which sounds more like “Nate”, thus a reason why it’s not A8 or A8t.
I spent almost a month testing this pair of IEMs, with many hours in the last few weeks when I went through a catalog of Nathan’s releases, including his recent track “Daft Funk” where he collaborated to create a funky tune in the spirit of Daft Punk “Get lucky.” Finally, I’m able to share with you my impressions about this latest 64 Audio release.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Unlike previously reviewed U12t/U18t/Trio/Fourte, N8 arrived in a small compact storage box with a picture of Nathan East on the cover, acknowledging these are signature series earphones with “Nate” behind the sound tuning. This is a similar compact box I remember from U12 and U6 reviews, where once a sleeve is off and the cover is lifted, under the cover you will find a Quick Start Guide with various volume advisory guidelines and a guide how to properly fit CIEMs in your ears.
The sleeve itself features Nathan’s signature on the side, and the cover also features a quote from him with a signature underneath. I thought it was ironic how you can see his signature on outside of the box and can hear his “sound” signature inside of it.
In addition to round 64 Audio sticker, the other included accessory is a custom storage case with a small removable dehumidifier, cleaning tool, and a shirt clip. As I mentioned in my previous reviews, it would have been a cool idea to have a shirt clip function as tweezers to grab apex module since they are not as easy to remove from CIEM shell of N8. My personal trick is to use one of those chip-extractor tweezers which you can find on eBay for a few dollars.
In this storage case, everything from a wide easy to handle latch to an air valve eliminating build-up of inner case pressure when you close it, to individual earpiece storage sections with removable rubber lining and a custom built-in cable winder, a spot to plug right angled headphone connector and to place the included round dehumidifier container, as well as a built-in organizer to hold securely a shirt clip (included), a cleaning tool (included), and pockets to hold 2 sets of apex modules – all this was custom tailored and well thought of. There is even enough room if you decide to use a thicker replacement cable.
When you place the order, you can also specify if you want your name to be etched on the top of the case to personalize it. While many companies use off the shelf Pelican or Otterbox storage cases with a pre-cut foam inserts, 64audio went one step further with their own custom designed case which protects your investment and keeps everything organized inside.
N8 arrived with 64 Audio own premium ultra-low resistance, silver-plated copper (SPC) cable which is available in either black or pearl white matte finish and could be selected during the order as either 48” or 64” (additional fee). If you need a different termination and want to use the same SPC wires, 64 Audio also offers Premium Cable where you can choose 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced plug and recessed vs non-recessed 2pin connectors.
The stock cable, which is called “professional cable”, is offered with 3.5mm headphone plug which has a right-angled plastic mold connector with a nice grip. The cable itself feels durable and very flexible, and comes with 4 separate inner-twisted conductors with a tight rubbery shielding, and no microphonics effect. The y-splitter is a heat-shrink tube, nothing fancy, and the chin-slider is a clear tube with enough friction to keep it from sliding freely. Toward the earpiece connectors, you have a memory wire which you pre-shape for comfort. The 2pin connector is universal and works well with a recessed 2pin shell sockets, and it’s conveniently color-coded with a Red dot for the Right side and a Blue dot for the Left side. Also, 2pin connector plastic mold is slightly angled, making the bend of the memory wire more natural and comfortable over your ear. Personally, I’m not a big fan of memory wire, but I’m sure performing musicians who have to move around on stage will appreciate it.
I’m a cable believer because I hear the difference, either a subtle or a more pronounced, and I have mentioned in many of my other reviews that intent of my testing with different cables is not to stir up a controversy, but rather to share my experience of what I hear. Feel free to skip this section if the talk about cables offends you. In this test, I used N8 w/M15 module and compared various cables to 64 Audio stock SPC cable. I did volume match by ear because many of these multi-conductor thicker cables have lower impedance which usually results in a louder sound that could be misleading when analyzing and comparing to a stock cable. Many of these cables are from Music Sanctuary where you can also order 64 Audio C/IEMs.
Last, but not least, I usually mention that despite the sound changes during cable rolling, nothing is night’n’day. In theory, cable shouldn’t function like an EQ to drastically change the sound, it’s there for refinement of it. Plus, N8 is equipment with LID tech to minimize sound variation due to output impedance of sources. But the changes here were quite noticeable. Perhaps it’s a combination of 6ohm N8 impedance along with these low impedance cables. Just keep in mind, the original N8 sound was tuned in collaboration with Nathan East who wanted a specific tonality which has been achieved using a stock cable. But it doesn’t mean you must stop there. Here is how I hear the sound changes relative to bass and mids as I was swapping cables while testing N8. These observations are relative to a stock SPC cable, while I was using SPK-SS as my source.
- Stock SPC cable – powerful bass impact, clear smooth mids.
- EA Ares II – a little more bass impact (hitting it even harder), and more clarity in mids.
- PWA No 5 – more balanced bass (slight reduction in bass impact relative to stock cable), and more clarity in mids.
- EA Lionheart – a little more bass impact, and warmer mids.
- HSA Aurora – more balanced bass (slight reduction in quantity), and more clarity in mids.
- PlusSound Tri-Copper – more balanced bass (slight reduction in quantity), more forward mids with more clarity.
- PWA 1960 2W – more balanced bass (reduction in quantity and more articulate quality), better layered revealing mids with a wider soundstage.
- PWA 1960 4W – more balanced bass (reduction in quantity and more articulate quality), better layered, more revealing, and higher resolving mids, with a wider soundstage. Scales up 2W performance.
What I found here, if you want to scale up the performance of N8, more toward audiophile hi-fi quality where you have a more balanced bass with a reduced quantity (relative to a stock cable) and a more revealing crisper mids/treble – pure copper cable seems to do the job. And you don’t have to spend a fortune since something like No 5 ($150) pairs up great, though to my surprise Ares II lifted the bass (I wasn’t too crazy about that pair up). You can scale up this change with Tri-Cu or 1960 4W, but expect to pay a lot more for a cable.