The difference between an ‘earphone’ and an ‘in-ear monitor’ is often a semantic one. When it comes to the 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir, there is no question we are talking about something more than just an ‘earphone’. Every fibre of its being, from the finish that is unique to each sample or the type and composition of the drivers suggests something ‘above and beyond’. In a way, though, that drive for ‘above and beyond’ defines much of what 64 Audio is all about.
64 Audio was founded by Vitaliy Belonozhko, a sound engineer who has been working with musicians and production companies for nearly two decades. He was one of those who discovered the advantages of IEMs over traditional floor ‘wedges’, wasn’t willing to put up with mediocre performance for gigging musicians and designed a better solution to in-ear monitoring. Founded in 2010, and today with a staff of over 70, 64 Audio has become the one of the most innovative in-ear monitor manufacturers in the industry, supplying products worldwide and to some of the best-known bands and engineers in the world. The company’s size might come as something of a shock to the typical audio enthusiast; somewhat like Westone, 64 Audio’s profile in the personal audio space is well-respected but has next to no reflection of just how far the company reaches into the wider in-ear world.
This is why where most in-ear designs rely on tried and trusted – and more than a little conservative – technologies, 64 Audio has the R&D resources to push the envelope. Technologies with names like ‘apex’, ‘LID’ and ‘tia’, aren’t just a small company reinventing (and in the process,
‘re-branding’) the wheel, 64 Audio excels in challenging traditional earphone designs to created legitimately unique and innovative audio products.
In fairness, LID (an acronym denoting ‘Linear Impedance Design’; a proprietary circuit that compensates for the non-linearity of driver impedance) isn’t relevant to the Fourté range of in-ear monitors, but both ‘apex’ and ‘tia’ are absolutely core to the design. The first is short for Air Pressure EXchange, and relieves air pressure problems caused by miniature speakers in a sealed ear canal. This is more than simply the changes in air pressure that one might experience when taking off or landing in an aircraft but the way air pressure in the ear canal changes when dealing with musical transients and dynamic passages of music.
At the same time, the tia tubeless in-ear audio incorporated into the tia Fourté Noir is a completely new design comprised of three major elements: open balanced armature tia drivers, the tia single-bore, and tia acoustic chambers. “By eliminating tubes and sound-altering dampers, the sound produced by the tia drivers is able to disperse freely and effortlessly, travelling to the ear in a more effective way,” says 64 Audio’s grande fromage, Vitaliy Belonozhko. “Sound in this manner yields an incredibly smooth and musical frequency response with a larger depth and sound stage than conventional in-ear monitors.”
The tia Fourté Noir’s design is built around a 50mm “pure beryllium” driver that according to 64 Audio has a frequency response of 18Hz-2 kHz (± 3 dB) and a high sensitivity specification of 97dB. The Fourté Noir’s circular, open-back enclosure is made of genuine Ebony wood with a mesh opening at its centre. Supplied accessories include a two-metre detachable silver Litz braided cable with a balanced 2.5mm connector and both 3.5mm and 6.35mm adapters, a travel case and a soft velour carry bag.
Naturally, the fit and finish is exemplary, as befits a product of the 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir price point and perceived gravitas. It comes in a very nicely finished presentation case, and comes finished in an all-black, aluminium shell gives the Fourté Noir an elegant new look, and real copper-patinated face-plates that makes each set as unique as it gets; a little like a verdigris fingerprint.
While perhaps not as vital an element in the personal audio world as it is in the traditional audio space (where if someone talks of ‘resistor values’, they often mean ‘price’), the 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir bristles with high-grade materials. It uses Mundorf SUPREME silver solder throughout, and an eight-conductor SPC premium cable provides lower resistance, yielding a smoother high frequency response.
The tia Fourté Noir is the ultimate expression of just what 64 Audio can do in the universal fit in-ear monitor world, with specific accent on the home user. It’s a strictly limited edition design, built around the highly-acclaimed tia Fourté. We’ve had similar ‘limited editions’ before, and they often prove to be little more than a short-run of a product with a funky finish and a price tag to match. While the tia Fourté Noir does have a funky finish, it’s so much more. If anything, the tia Fourté Noir represents a high-end reset; a chance to showcase precisely what is possible from the universal fit in-ear monitor, and an intuition pump for potential future models.
The tia Fourté Noir does not replace the tia Fourté, but instead gives customers another choice in an ultra high-end audiophile grade IEM with additional technologies and upgrades. And if that is what 64 Audio aimed to do with the tia Fourté Noir, they really bullseye-d the target on this one.
The big worry with any limited-edition flagship (apart from the ‘it’s just added bling!’ concern) is that it focusses the company’s attention on making the product better than the existing model, but fails to look to the bigger picture; how it sounds in the real world. This means you often get products with more high-frequency extension, deeper bass, more open soundstaging, and so on, but in a package that is less musically integrated than the product upon which it is based. This is as cynical as it is successful, because the expensive limited-edition model goes to the collectors rather than the more discerning (and deserving) listeners. However, in the case of 64 Audio that is categorically NOT what happened here. Instead, 64 Audio took an already world-class design in the tia Fourté and transformed it into what is probably the best in-ear monitor ever made.
Yes, it does do all those audiophile improvements to the performance, but that’s just the start. The bass is warm and deep and dynamic, the higher frequencies are smoother and free from both brightness and the sort of almost grainy ‘hash’ sound that can pass for ‘impressive treble’, and the midrange ‘disappears’ in the way all audiophiles crave.
So far, so ‘impressive collection of frequencies’. Where the tia Fourté Noir goes from here is what makes it out as being way superior to traditional IEMs. There is an integration and resolution to the sound that is the kind usually the preserve of full-range electrostatic loudspeakers or headphones, but it couples that integration with the sort of dynamic range and reproduction of musical sturm und drang that is the stuff of dynamic drivers. This is captivating and addictive at once; at the first listen, regardless of the track played, you’ll start ‘hearing into’ the recording more than usual, exposing details and information usually left buried in the mix. While this can sometimes be a double-edged sword – if you think Beyonce’s voice on ‘Sandcastles’ [Lemonade, Columbia] is surprisingly good, listening to it through the tia Fourté Noir shows just how much of her singing voice comes down to very clever microphone technique and some very subtle shaping – she has the singing chops, but they are ‘helped’ in the studio. But that degree of analysis does not come at the expense of the music, and even something a little bit messy – ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ by Wu-Tang Clan [Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Loud] – benefits from that analysis without being laid bare. In fact, it’s perhaps this track that helped unlock precisely what the 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir do so well. They have a kind of perfect storm of IEM energy, electrostatic detail, dynamic drive and planar-magnetic integration. Making them possibly the best of the best. Yes, this is very noticeable when playing delicate jazz, audiophile recordings, or deftly-made classical pieces, but they can sound good on almost anything, and sound sublime here. But instead it’s RZA at the faders producing a raw mix of East Coast Hip Hop from the early 1990s that shows up how much these IEMs really have to offer the listener. They don’t mask, or expose… they simply tell it like it is!
As IEMs, the 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir are sensitive enough to be driven by almost anything, but they work best being fed quality, not quantity. That being said, they sounded outstanding running off the end of a Chord Mojo DAC; the warmth of the Mojo rather than the detail-frenzy of the Hugo II and beyond makes for a combination that is both informative enough to unlock your music and not so hyper-analytical as to lay that music bare and exposed. Of course, better is its own reward, and more digital detail does really work here too, so be prepared to spend big on the front end.
There is an obvious downside for me. They are a strictly limited and expensive edition, and that means my pair of 64 Audio tia Fourté Noir are already sold to some lucky bugger and ‘my’ set have to go back sooner or later. I’ve tried everything from avoiding phone calls to secreting my own distinct and charmless musk over the product, but sooner or later they have to go back in the box…
- Type: universal fit in-ear monitors
- Driver complement: 3× precision balanced armature drivers, 1× dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz–22 KHz (± 3 dB)
- Impedance: 10 ohms
- Sensitivity: 114 dB/1mw
- Connector: 2.5mm balanced connection with 2.5mm–3.5mm adaptor
- Price: £3,899, $3,799 USD
Manufacturer Information: 64 Audio
Uk Distributor: KS Distribution
Tel: +44(0)1903 768919