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REVIEW: 64 Audio Shootout – Nio. Trió. Fourté. Noir

REVIEW: 64 Audio Shootout – Nio. Trió. Fourté. Noir
Speed and dynamics

Hybrids can suffer from incoherency between their slower, more analogue dynamic drivers and faster, more precise BA drivers. To my ears 64 Audio’s hybrids don’t have too many coherency issues, although the contrast between the slower, rounder bass notes and decay on Nio (and Noir) is occasionally apparent. The reason I mention this here is that it affects how I hear the overall speed of the four IEMs. All four are generally very fast and dynamic, however, with a deftness of touch when it comes to scaling from the softest to the loudest parts of the music.     

Nio

Without contradicting what I’ve just said, let me qualify it by adding that of the four IEMs, Nio is the slowest. A better term would be relaxed, because technically speaking Nio isn’t slow. But its big, bold and sometimes bloomy dynamic bass with M15 pulls on the reigns, as does its more relaxed treble tuning. With a Tia driver doing treble duty the music’s upper fundamentals are never going to be left too far behind, and switching to mX the bass cleans up nicely, showing that Nio is capable of a quicker dynamic attack and decay when it’s called for. 

Trió

Whereas Nio is politely reserved, Trió is unapologetically fast and dynamic. Yes, it has a big dynamic driver that doesn’t always keep up with the super-fast BA in the mids and even faster Tia treble driver, but since bass is centred more on sub bass than midbass, it doesn’t hold back the other frequencies much at all. There’s a real energy to Trió’s dynamism too, constantly fed by a sometimes over-exuberant treble and complemented nicely by its large-yet-nimble and very punchy bass. Trió can softly ping just as hard as it slams, so best prepare your ears for the rush, especially if dynamically aggressive music is your thing.  

Fourté

Speed is what Fourté is all about. Never mind the fact that it has a dynamic driver, the agility of its bass blends in almost seamlessly with the nimbleness of its midrange and treble drivers. It might not be technically as tight as an all-BA IEM like the U12t or U18t, but it compensates with authority and a lifelike analogue decay that’s physically impossible for BA woofers to fully replicate. It’s also incredibly dynamic, rapidly delivering high/low volume switches, but doesn’t quite match the dynamic thwack of Trió’s potent bass slam.  

Noir

Compared to Fourté, Noir slows down the pace somewhat without making it too apparent. Its thicker, bolder low end emphasizes decay over swiftness, and while excellently textured, the bass doesn’t match the tightness of a BA woofer (or indeed Fourté’s dynamic). Still, Noir manages to match Trió note for note when it comes to speed, even though its notes are thicker, but when it comes to overall speed, Noir’s dual Tia drivers are akin to mini afterburners. Dynamics don’t take much of a hit from the added warmth either, but I don’t hear the Noir as any more dynamic or energetic than Trió. If anything, the latter has more zing, while the Noir is more refined. 

Track Notes

Rush’s Vital Signs, off the band’s 1981 LP Moving Pictures (West Germany 1st Press Edition), is a progressive rock classic that features some incredibly dexterous work by drumming legend Neil Peart. The snare drum hits accelerate as the song nears its crescendo at 3:50, and the mix of drums, synths and riffing require perfect timing to come off just right. Given the slightly dry nature of this particular recording, Nio (in both configurations) injects some much-needed warmth to the sound, but also admirably manages to keep up with the pace. Trió does too, but at a canter. The snares also hit harder and the drums sound punchier than Nio’s, adding weight to go with the speed. Fourté tells it like it is: fast, dry, musical, rhythmic. Every snare stroke, stick hit, orchestral string (in the background) and accompanying vocals are played in perfect balance, with great precision. It almost turns what’s already a great recording on Nio and Trió into a live session. Noir is likewise pacy, but the layering isn’t as clearly defined as it is with Fourté. The drums and snares are melded in with the rest of the instruments, though nothing gets muddled in the process either. 

Dadawa’s Sister Drum, the title track from her 1995 album, is an incredibly dynamic track that features a slow, soft buildup and recurring bassline, with Dadawa almost whispering her words before a massive Chinese drum salvo reverberates around the cavernous space. Nio’s (M15) big bass driver is custom-made for this track, giving a good account of the scale of the drums while rendering the quieter parts with a fair amount of detail (not that I understand the words to know how clearly I’m hearing them). Nio mX, on the other hand, is not a good fit for this track. The drum hits are more like soft slaps, losing impact and texture in the process, and while the quieter passages are rendered clearly, that’s only half the song. Trió bring things back to where they should be, evoking even more nuance from the quieter passages, and adding punch and slam to the drums. The stage is also wider, giving the sound more room to breathe. Fourté’s comparatively restrained bass still has more impact than Nio mX, but not quite as much as Nio M15 or Trió. It makes up for it with incredibly tight, textured bass, while making even the faintest whisper in the build-up clear as day. Noir is the perfect storm of Trió’s impact and Fourté’s detail. It’s not quite as punchy as Trió, but its defter in touch, and still very dynamic.    

Nils Lofgren’s Keith Don’t Go (Ode To The Glimmer Twin), from his 1997 Acoustic Live album, features a mesmerizingly-fast guitar riff from 4:08 that really tests an IEMs upper midrange and treble speed. As expected, all four 64 Audio IEMs ace this test, their Tia drivers easily keeping pace with the music. Even Nio, with its more relaxed outlook on life, follows Lofgren’s plucking with aplomb. Naturally all three Tia System IEMs – Trió, Fourté and Noir – cruise through this passage, though tonally they’re quite different. Trió’s version is rather zingy, with something about its tuning resulting in an overly sharp rendition. Fourté’s is surprisingly fuller and more detailed, the reverberations of individual strings seemingly radiating off the guitar body in a gobsmacking display of resolving power. Noir is closer to Fourté than Trió, with a bit more body in the lower notes that resonate from the wood.  

Armin van Buuren’s Intense (featuring Miri Ben-Ari), the title track of his 2013 LP, features an intricate interplay between his array of electronic effects and Miri’s violin, with a deep drop and bold beat that picks up the rhythm as the track gathers pace. Nio M15 keeps the pace but doesn’t quite capture the full dynamic range of the interplay, coming off as slightly restrained. Switching to mX does little to help Nio’s pacing, dropping the bass weight without really picking up much treble energy. Trió ups both pace and contrast, and unlike Nio’s more relaxed approach, introduces some foot-tapping energy that brings the music to life. The bass drop is deep and wide, and the drums kick in with agility, epitomizing Trió’s powerful dynamics. Fourté loses none of Trió’s speed, if anything speeding things up a touch. While it adds refinement to Trió’s bold approach, it loses some weight in the drop and some of Trió’s dynamic punch in the process. Noir restores some of the punch, though not quite as forcefully as Trió, and Miri’s violins have a slightly softer edge too, but the bass is big and the stage every bit as wide as Trió’s, with pace and rhythm to spare.