The Natural Abalone!
PROS: natural detailed tonality, powerful bass impact (depending on module selection), interchangeable APEX module, LID tech, new packaging and leather case.
CONS: not a typical tia-driven treble, benefits from a cable upgrade.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
In Matrix, Neo had a choice between red pill and blue pill to pick his destiny. In audio-Matrix, Nio, the new protagonist from 64 Audio, is faced with a choice of different APEX “pills” to decide its sound tuning path! Maybe this story sounds a little too melodramatic, and I’m sure some might even question, how is this any different from other 64 Audio releases with interchangeable APEX modules? Well, for starters, this is 64 Audio first universal hybrid release where, unlike Fourte and Trio, you can remove and replace the module to give you more than just fine-tuning of the sound.
Ever since my review of N8 from two years ago, I was hoping 64 Audio will consider universal version of this hybrid CIEM. And it looks like my wishes came true! Teased earlier this year at CanJam NYC, there were a few noticeable hints, like a placeholder name of “K9” suggesting 9-driver design and a shell with DD venting port. When I found out the official name of this IEM, it made a perfect sense to me: Trio is Three-driver hybrid, Fourte is Four-driver hybrid, Nio is Nine-driver hybrid. But, is Nio just a universal version of N8 or more? Let’s find out in this review of 64 Audio latest release.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Nio arrived in a brand-new packaging box design, a step up from their previous universal releases of U18t, Fourte, U12t, and Trio. After a dozen of 64 Audio IEM/CIEM reviews, I’m used to either their small compact no frills boxes geared toward musicians or larger consumer friendly boxes with fancier presentation, all with the same custom plastic organizer case. Nio seems to switch gears to highlight its beautiful Blue Abalone faceplate design by having a matching artwork around the packaging box. You still have a picture of IEMs popping out in 3D from the front and a very detailed design diagram and description of features on the back.
Inside, everything is secured around the foam insert with cutouts for Nio with a cable, pockets for M20 and new MX APEX modules (with M15 already in the shell), and a new leather hockey puck shaped case with a company logo imprinted on the cover. I guess I was more surprised with a case than anything else. I’m sure 64 Audio is not discontinuing their original organizer case which many musicians will find quite useful and secure. But with Nio having more consumer-oriented appeal, this round leather case adds a nice touch of luxury to the storage.
Other included accessories, stored inside of the case, a cleaning tool, shirt clip, a set of silicone eartips (S/M/L), a set of TrueFidelity foam eartips (S/M/L), and dehumidifier capsule. Plus, you will find a traditional 64 Audio round sticker, and a product manual with useful info about care & maintenance, handling detachable cable, using APEX module, volume safety advisory, and warranty info.
At the moment of writing this review, 64 Audio announced a fine-tuning of their logo. It is not a drastic change, just a refresh. But still, please keep this in mind, my review sample has the original older logo.
64 Audio stock cable uses ultra-low resistance flexible non-microphonic silver-plated copper (SPC) wires which come in either Professional or Premium versions. Sometimes it creates a confusion because people see different cable plugs/connectors in pictures without realizing it is still same wires. The main difference between these cables is in hardware.
Professional has a more basic 2pin connector mold which is compatible with recessed and non-recessed sockets and has red/blue indicator dots for right/left shells, memory wire, heat-shrink y-split and clear tube chin slider, comes in black or white rubbery shielding with either 48” or 64” length, and has 3.5mm only option inside of a plastic right angled plug. Wires are inner-twisted between plug and y-split and then twisted in pairs going up. It is a cheaper looking cable and it comes standard with all 64 Audio CIEMs and also compatible with non-recessed universal models.
Premium cable, which uses the same wires, has a higher quality hardware with non-recessed angled 2pin sturdy connector and L/R letter indicator, memory wire, 64 Audio branded plastic y-split and a plastic chin-slider, and uses a more premium brand name plug with options for 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm termination in either straight (2.5/4.4) or angled (3.5) housing, and comes only in black rubbery shielding and 48” length. Wires are inner-twisted between plug and y-split and then twisted in pairs going up. These cables come standards with universal models, such as Fourte/Trio/U18t/U12t and Nio, and looks more premium.
When Nio was originally launched during the summer, 64 Audio had a promotional deal for their new Premium Silver Hybrid cable, bundled free with Nio orders. The people who received a free bonus Silver Hybrid cable also got Professional stock cable, while afterwards all Nio orders come with a Premium cable. Also, Premium cable only comes in stock with 3.5mm termination, and I wish they would have offered an option for termination upgrade.
Furthermore, as I was working on my review, 64 Audio added an option for IPX connector in addition to 2pin connector. Again, this is only an option for CIEM models when building these monitors and having a choice between 2pin or IPX (new smaller and more secure connector which resembles mmcx, but has a much higher quality).
And speaking of the new silver premium cable, let’s find out more about it.
64 Audio Silver Premium cable.
While this new cable is called Silver Premium, in reality it has a Silver alloy core surrounded by 200 Silver-Plated Copper strands. Basically, this is 26 AWG gauge ultra-low resistance 4-wire multi-core structure Silver plated OCC and Silver Alloy. It even uses a premium audio grade solder to make sure signal path is pure and has low resistance. So, this is not a pure silver cable but rather a hybrid of Silver and SPC material. I think this design was chosen to reduce the wire resistance without making the gauge thicker or doubling the number of conductors (from 4 wires to 8 wires).
It is a very nice-looking cable, very soft and flexible, non-microphonic, braided between plug and y-split, with all the same hardware as 64 Audio Premium cable, including non-recessed 2pin angled connector mold, memory wire (which I personally can’t stand and removed right away), 64 Audio branded y-split, plastic chin slider, and the termination plug of your choice, depending on availability (since at the moment of writing 4.4mm wasn’t available).
Of course, it was no-brainer when this cable was offered as a free bonus. But as an optional accessory, I will go over the sound benefits of this cable and a few others further in my review.