Heir Audio 10.A CIEM Review: The 10.A’s are one of the finest pairs of CIEMs that money can buy. The craftsmanship is very good even if more artistic approaches should become available, the audio quality is detailed, ever so slightly warm, and highly revealing, whilst the overall package is exceptionally thoughtful. Purchasing the 10.A’s will, undoubtedly, be one of the best audio purchases that you will ever make.
Heir Audio is a Chinese boutique manufacture of high end balanced armature (BA) IEM and CIEM designs. With an extensive range that accommodates a whole plethora of budgets and sonic tastes, the 10.A currently stands as Heir Audio’s reference flagship model. Having said this, Heir Audio have confirmed that a new top-banana twelve BA design is in development, so if you’re looking for the ultimate then it’s best to head over to the Heir Audio website to check out the release date, or to keep an eye out for our forthcoming review. Regardless, the 10.A still packs serious heat, as you’ll read about within this review, but it does needs to be understood that it is currently only available as a custom so you will need to have your ear impressions taken and sent to Heir to produce your one of a kind. At $1399.00 a pair some may be questioning their prestige price-tag, but I can conform that they are certainly well positioned and won’t leave you with any regrets the moment that you hear their siren song.
Earlier we mentioned the inclusion of a VIP card within the 10.A package. Although, at first, this card seems a little odd, this item is unique to the 10.A CIEM package and includes an individual VIP number. Not only does this card list your unique serial number and 10.A ‘born date’, but it offers the purchaser a range of benefits including; a one time 20% discount off your next purchase, lifetime 10% off new orders, unparalleled exclusive customer services (Phone, E-Mail, and Skype), 10% off a repair or later refit, and free shipping twice. I haven’t quite seen this level of customer service with any product before, so I can only say that Heir Audio’s generosity is outstanding and can be of significant benefit - especially if you’re a repeat customer. On top of all of this, Heir Audio don’t just stop there, they offer a two year warranty with their IEMs and CIEMs so you can rock on knowing that you’re at least safe for that period.
Review Equipment, Fit, and Isolation:
Various lossless files from 44.1kHz 24bit to 192kHz 24bit, MacBook Air Mid 2013, Sonic Studio - Amarra, Channel D - Pure Music 2, iBasso DX90 (2.1.8 Lurkers Mod), Chord Electronics - Hugo, Aurender - Flow, Lynx - Hilo, iPhone 5s, and Comply - Custom Wraps.
Overall I have found the work of the craftsmanship very good and the Heir engineers have adequately judged the tolerances from my open mouth impressions. In use the seal remains consistent (moderately tight) without too much movement and, over time, the CIEMs do not need to be readjusted too much. My only complaint that is during open mouth vocal exercises I have found the seal to be a little loose, so to remedy this I have used the Comply Custom Wraps. Installing the Custom Wraps onto the CIEMs was a quick and painless process and has genuinely improved the bass articulation, presence, and imaging - more than I ever thought that they would. For this reason, when you purchase your 10.A CIEMs, I strongly advise that you purchase a pack of the Comply Custom Wraps as they make the CIEMs fit even tighter, whilst adding a luxurious comfort, and improve the sound quality. As a final note of this thought… if you intend to use the 10.A’s for live performance purposes, the 10.A isolation is perfect for this environment as it easily blocks out foldback monitor performance (critical if you’re the only one in the band with a pair of CIEMs) and, again, your individual CIEM foldback mix will be adequately isolated to judge your performance pre or post effect - whatever allows you to perform better.
Another key aspect of the 10.A design is how well they isolate the wearer from external ambient noise and vice versa. On the Heir Audio website they claim a -26dB external noise attenuation, and this is certainly noticeable when worn. In use I have found the external ambient noise rejection to be so good that I can moderately hear my heart beating when no music is being played. This is not only testament to the build quality and craftsmanship, but it also means that you are getting a more than adequate seal so you can be sure that you are listening to your music in the way that Heir intended. During external listening tests I found that I could enjoy my music to near-dangerous levels, and my assistant noticed that the leakage, in a silent room, was negligible. If you are one of those people that worries about whether fellow commuters can hear your music, or not, you really should not worry with the 10.A’s at all - the attenuation is significant. To put this into perspective, I was able listen to heavily compressed Pop music (Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear) on my iBasso DX90 with the gain setting marked at ‘High’ and the volume set at 216 without my assistant even noticing that music was being played back - incredible.
Sound Quality and Previous Flagship Micro-Comparison:
The Heir Audio 10.A’s are an outrageously exquisite pair of CIEM’s. Clearly the 10.A’s are some of the finest pairs of ear candy that we have ever come across and I can comfortably say that, without doubt, they easily rival speakers costing many times their value. I totally understand that you may already be screaming ‘Lay off the superlatives!’, but I cannot sing their praises enough - I’m hooked and I know that you would be too. One of the most impressive qualities of the 10.A’s is that, somehow, they are able to bring the very best out of any Genre, recording, and even pair beautifully with almost any source that you have available - although certain devices, such as the DX90 (2.1.8 Lurkers Mod), have a delightful synergy with the 10.A’s. However, if you compare the 10.A’d to the previous Heir flagship, the 8.0’s, the 10.A’s are leagues ahead in definition, treble extension, and imaging, whilst they lay off on the heavy warm rounded bass presence in favour for beautiful lush textured mids to compliment the mid-fast dynamic attack and sheer distortionless super high end definition.
To put the 10.A’s in to perspective, I’d have to say that they exhibit a revealing, yet smooth, ever so slightly warm balanced character. The image is very wide and goes very deep to the point where you can draw attention to micro nuances within the micro details if you so choose. The super high trebles extend well beyond what is expected, but the lack of distortion makes this area very tangible so you can pump the 10.A’s up high, if you so wish, and never experience sibilance or premature listening fatigue, and likewise still maintain an excellent stereo image with superb layering. Essentially the 10.A’s exhibit a mildly fun, yet analytical, attitude in order to deliver a universally accepted performance that doesn’t intend to fit into any stereotypes or ostracise any specific genres. The 10.A’s certainly aren’t quite reference because they do have a mild U shaped frequency response… almost as if what we describe as ‘American’ sounding had a child with the ‘British’ sound - that’s the 10.A’s in a nutshell.
Despite the 10.A’s being energetic and emotive, if we come back to the stereo imaging, we should really discuss the separation and limits of each frequency boundary. If we begin at the sub-bass frequencies, it has to be said that they have a dryer stereo separation in comparison to the rest of frequency range. This is actually highly desirable as it acts as a solid central reference point for the range and positioning of the X-Axis, but the 10.A’s deliver a continuous tight biting stereo separation for the transience of the beat to be build upon… something that we shall discuss in the nest paragraph. In the general bass region the 10.A’s typically follow a similar path to that of the sub-bass frequencies, but instead they have a tiny bit wider, yet still central, positioning. I have found this modest area of breathing space to be highly desirably as, against the treble X-Axis extension, they naturally compliment each other and allow heavy bass instruments in orchestral / classical music, such as timpani’s and double-bass (harmonics), to come across with accurate grandeur and spatial awareness along the X and Y-Axis. As the bass frequencies progress into the low-midrange the stereo separation and depth exponentially expands to untethered boundaries - essentially the 10.A’s don’t appear to shackle the listener to any specific width and depth, so the listener only hears a sense of space as it was crafted by the mix-engineer. This is an outrageously difficult ideal to achieve when designing any form of transducer, or indeed transducer array, and it suggests to me that the 10.A’s have followed a lengthy tuning/matching process to achieve such harmony. With the right high resolution recordings, and equipment to match, you can expect to feel as if you are directly plugged into the intended spatial surroundings - the 10.A’s are pure bliss. As we progress from the mid-range into the high midrange, I have to say that nothing much changes apart from the fact that there is a slight dip in the frequency range, but still the same luscious, expansive, qualities that we previously discussed are applicable, just slightly lower on the Y-Axis. Having said this as we enter the low-high-range to mid-high-range the same expansive quality is evident and that highly praised spatial environment around the Y-Axis is restored. If we continue further on into the high-treble range it appears as if we’ve lost some of the depth resolution on the Y-Axis and X-Axis spatial separation, yet this feels entirely appropriate. The reason for why this feels entirely approbate is so that the articulation and central positioning of the bass groove can relate to the, often, rhythmic sizzle of supporting percussion. From this you don’t quite get a sibilant performance, but you do get an edgy presentation that screams definition. This slightly flatter image is quite fun to listen to, but this generally summarises the 10.A’s performance perfectly - they’re a multifaceted energetic CIEM that delivers a shockingly addictive performance that can relate to both audiophiles and the average consumer.
In terms of dynamic range, the 10.A’s are such a contrast rich pair that have the ability to nimbly navigate the range with sheer natural progression. In the high-mids to upper treble range the 10.A’s have an ever so slight edgy bite due to their moderately fast attack and slightly faster decay, yet the dynamic synergy between this specific area of the frequency spectrum is well judged and generally more than adequate to gel critical finer room reverb reflections into a coherent, well judged, convoluted transient window into the intended final mix environment. Coming down to the mid-midrange now, the 10.A dynamic range follows a flipped typology, in that they sport a mid-fast attack and a slightly slower decay. The resultant performance is perfect, to my ears, for a wide variety of genres and allows a myriad of multi layered vocal performances to have a sense of realism due to the sheer dynamic depth of field that’s exposed. With the 10.A’s the blacks are certainly as black as one could possibly hope for and likewise the finer white areas appear perfectly placed. This doesn’t solely come from the nimble acrobatics of the treble and midrange, but it also largely comes from the power and emotion expressed through the timing articulation of the bass frequencies… needless to say that this is, again, and area in which the 10.A’s excel at. In terms of the sub-bass frequencies the 10.A’s have a perfect moderately fast attack and moderately slow decay timing measurements coupled with a steady, distortionless, deeply low depth of field… and boy do they go low without ever loosing the reigns. The 10.A’s, slightly unnaturally, orchestrate the sub-bass frequencies in a regimented fashion in order to pull out the best of this region for your brain to translate it with gut wrenching emotion. With this said you shouldn’t confuse this statement for meaning that the sub-bass is too far forward, instead it is held in the right balanced measure - we’re not talking ultra artificial here, we’re talking about honest sub-bass slightly brought forward that is balanced against the expansive treble depth of field. With this said if we come up to the bass region, the attack here is slightly faster than the sub-bass and holds a moderate decay. Against the sub-bass and the midrange, the coherent transient nature of the bass allows melody supporting bass instrumentation to hold a rounded smoothness against an emotive pumping kick drum. Simply put, the 10.A’s never miss a beat and are so full of emotion that even the most serious audiophile will be rendered into submission.
If, like me, you believe that the micro details are just as important as the macro’s, the 10.A’s will not disappoint. Their highly detailed and well crafted imaging is on par with speakers costing many times their price, and their oddly charming and transparent mild U-shaped frequency response is, no matter who you are or what genres you listen to, audiophile bliss. The 10.A’s are a dream to use and will have you hooked in seconds. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Heir Audio 10.A CIEMs with a full five star rating and the Editors Choice Award. Now rediscover your music collection…