The Warm Side of the Moon!
PROS: powerful bass impact (depending on module selection), fuller body warm analog tonality, clear detailed sound, new faceplate design, interchangeable apex module, LID tech, updated set of accessories.
CONS: price, not a typical tia-driven treble, the tuning is quite different from U18t if you expect 18s to be a variation of original.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
A month ago, 64 Audio announced 3 new 2021 products, teasing us with eye candy computer-generated images, and the rumor mill went into overdrive! In the past, 64 Audio used to spoil us with more frequent new releases, then after U12t, Tia, and N8 things slowed down a bit. Noir was a refined version of Fourte, and Nio was a logical universal step up from N8. Then, a year ago, A18s was announced and the pandemic hell broke loose. Unfortunately, lack of CanJams and other audio shows and custom-only nature of the design are kryptonite factors in audiophile world. Plus, “s” denoted studio version of this 18-driver flagship which could be misunderstood.
Similar to N8, it looked like A18s CIEM release was targeted more toward stage and studio musicians rather than consumer audiophiles. Yes, it felt like N8 déjà vu all over again, and I was afraid it will follow the same footsteps of us waiting 2 years for a proper universal version. But as many probably aware, 64 Audio makes uni demos of their Custom-only IEMs for audio shows and retailer stores. Those are not for sale, even so quite a few people in 64 Audio thread on Head-fi expressed their wishful thinking for one, even willing to buy store demos. Thus, demand was definitely there, and to my surprise 64 Audio responded swiftly with a new design supply.
Just to clarify one thing, I did receive the original custom A18s a few months ago, and quickly realized it wasn’t for my ears. Due to sharp first bend of my left earcanal, CIEM nozzles usually end up being super short which affects the tuning, especially when dealing with tia driver at the tip of the nozzle. When I requested uni demo of A18s and then compared it to U18s review unit, I was able to hear a noticeable difference to reconfirm my original suspicion. Now, with a proper universal U18s in my ears, I’m ready to share my impressions.
Unboxing and Accessories.
U18s arrived in a similar large size packaging as U18t and Fourte/Noir models. The removable sleeve has 3D like image of the shells with a focus on a new faceplate pattern and branded apex module. This was also the first 64 Audio product I received with a new logo which I think is very clever. The 6 and 4 are now interlocking where the number “4” extends into letter “A” while going through number “6”.
On the back of the sleeve, you have a zoomed in view of the shell design and every component inside of it. It is very interesting to see a compact shell, housing 18 BA drivers, including tia in the nozzle and also apex module. I was surprised a spec wasn’t printed, but there were highlights of the design with “apex”, “tia”, “LID”, TrueFidelity (foam eartips), and SpinFit (eartips) mentioning.
Inside under the magnetic cover you will find an inspirational message from Vitaliy Belonozhko, the founder and chief sound designer of 64 Audio. In the main storage area of the box things look totally updated in comparison to previous releases with a similar packaging. You have two round cutouts in a foam block, holding top and the bottom of the leather storage case. No more custom pelican-like case, those are used now with CIEMs intended for musicians who require a more secure storage. Universal IEM packaging is designed to appeal to consumers, and U18s features the same round leather storage case included with Nio.
The lid of a storage case features new updated “64” logo and was placed at the top of the box with a plastic eartips holder. The holder gives you a clear view and easy access to 3 types of included eartips, a set of wide-bore opening black silicone tips (S/M/L), a set of TrueFidelity foam eartips (S/M/L), and a set of SpinFit brand name eartips (S/M/L). That was a welcome addition to accessories. The bottom part of the leather case was holding a foam insert with U18s securely sitting inside, and a plastic holder for 3 sets of apex modules, MX and M20 in a holder and M15 in U18s shells already.
I noticed right away that 64 logo was printed on the top of apex module; surprised it took 64 Audio that long to finally brand their apex modules with a logo which looks great! Of course, foam insert is only to hold the shells without a cable attached, and it could be easily removed to use leather storage case which has plenty of room for U18s with cable attached and apex modules holder and even a few spare eartips. A sticker with a new 64 Audio logo was included as well.
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 where Pro version has a more basic 2pin connector mold which is compatible with recessed and non-recessed socket, red/blue indicator for sides id, and a plastic 3.5mm angled plug.
Premium cable 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 premium quality brand name plug with options for 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm termination. These cables come standards with universal models, such as Fourte/Trio/U18t/U12t/Nio, and look more “premium”.
U18s comes with a New 8-braid Premium cable they refer to as “Silver”, but it actually uses Pure Silver Plated OFC wires, each with 65 strands of 44awg conductor, just a little bit thicker than original Premium wires. It is a very low impedance cable, 0.28ohm of total impedance. Despite 8 wires instead of a typical 4, the cable is still very pliable, relatively lightweight, and non-microphonic.
During Nio launch, 64 Audio also introduced a Premium Silver Hybrid 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. 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. The cable is optional and cost extra. I will cover how it sounds in comparison to Premium SPC cable further in my review.