Heir Audio IEM - Hugo Review


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Jul 3, 2012
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Basildon, Essex
A Review of the HEIR 8.0 Universal IEM using Chord Hugo amp/dac

IEM: Heir Audio 8.0 universal - 4 way 8 Balanced Armature Drivers

Amp/dac: Chord Hugo

Sources used:

…with transport source been: Sony ZX1 (flac files) , Tag Mclaren DVD32R, HP X360 Spectre laptop using WAV & Flac files (both normal & high res files) going through the Hugo.

*For anyone not familiar with how the Heir 8.0 look I have used a stock photo from Heir as I had technical issues with my camera sd card and unfortunately only realized this until after sending the 8.0’s off on their way so not have any sexy close up macro shots of it with the other equipment used but we are lucky we live in the power of Google images for anyone wanting to check out more of the 8.0 unique wood fascia look and build quality.

Hugo & Heir 8.0.jpg

I have been lucky enough to try out the Heir 8.0 universal’s for the last week of the performance of these 8 driver balanced armature designed universal’s.

The 8.0 is the universal fit cousin to the custom monitor the 8.A they make so anyone can wear these and sports as the model number hints at 8 drivers per channel incorporating four way passive cross over design with two balanced armature (BA) drivers for the low frequency, two BA drivers for the mid-range, two BA drivers for the High frequency and then two BA drivers for ultra-high frequency.

It has a triple bore design with detachable earphone cable and comes packaged in a nice Heir medium sized otter box which includes a variation of different silicone tips of all size and style’s to find best fit for one’s ear.

I currently own the Heir 5.0 IEM’s and a pair of JH16pro CIEM’s which I enjoy most genres of music but predominantly listen to a lot of pop, dance, rock, blues and some jazz and classical as well as some varied soundtrack’s from movies so do try to put IEM’s through their paces to see how they fair over a wide range of music.

Already in the past listened to the Heir 3.Ai & 4.Ai universals and owning the 5.0’s with already have a familiar standing with the Heir IEM’s different traits they all have which makes them distinctive from each other having their own unique signatures.

I personally use the red-tip silicone small-size ear-buds as I do not have the biggest ear canals, I find considering this is universal IEM with eight drivers per channel they fit in my ear very well with them just slightly protruding outside the ear not quite flush like my 5.0’s or JH16’s do but considering they are a universal Heir have done a good job of making the shell a reasonably compact size.

The 8.0 are light weight and comfortable and will still look in place when using these out and about unlike say the universal Layla’s, when I tried them on a while back they seemed to stick out a bit to far in my ears which would of made it awkward to use when mobile, in my opinion a universal still has to feel comfortable and stay put when on the move which the 8.0 manage to do just fine. The 8.0 also comes with the Magnus cable which is the best supplied stock cable with an IEM I have heard by far and you don’t actually feel the need to have to spend extra straight away for a custom cable. The cable feels strong and does not tangle too easily and comes with a 3.5mm L shape jack.

The shell and build is the same as always… elegant wood finish this time a Siamese Rose Wood face plate, build quality second to none and it is seamless where the face plate adjoins the shell housing which is one of the driving forces which has given them a good reputation for the consistency they have on the design and build side of things but aesthetics are not everything as I am sure the burning question is how does the 8.0 sound?

...To start with first impressions after listening to the 8.0’s after been used to the JH16’s for four years and the Heir 5.0’s for almost last two years was firstly quite subtle rather than an immediate impactful change although the presentation was sure different despite all three of these sharing the same philosophy of having a warm extended bass presence to their signature.

The 8.0 first noticeable footprint upon listening was the low hitting heavy weight bass notes which was controlled with wide dispersion on the bass floor across which was down too these IEM’s having a nice big wide soundstage and good stereo imaging, probably one of the best width I’ve heard on IEM’s but the 8.0’s on top of this also seem to have plenty of head room and depth so gives a pedal stool for these IEM’s to have an expansive open sound which is one of the fundamental building blocks that make these 8.0 capable of sounding good as they do.

The 8.0’s have a sense of warmth and richness to them without sounding too thick and the dual low drivers make these rock when they need to but they only go low when they need to as most part they stay around the low to high mids until they are needed and you almost forget they can go low as they do because some songs can take you by surprise when those low frequency’s kick in... but when they do they might not be as punchy or edgy as bass on other dual driver BA’s but with the 8.0s it is immersive and impactful still which can feel at times the vibration of the low sub bass notes whilst still never losing control or distorting in anyway and can still hear the note detail to be had.

The Bass I found over time the more you get to listen to different types of music became quite addictive or shall I say seductive as it is never the same and can diversify it’s bass note tones and signature with every new artist or band I listened to.

One of my fav’ test tracks I now use for everything I hear for the first time for how it deals with the mid/low to sub bass is the James Blake “Limit your Love” track which really test’s any headphone or speaker system, have to say this sounds awesome on the 8.0’s actually better than on my JH16’s which I thought I would not be saying but this really renders mid and lower bass notes impeccably due to been able to separate this notes really well as this is all happening at the same time and you hear all this whilst been able to pick out all the information quite easily as the whilst all the distorted blown out massive sub rumblings of James Blake tweaking his equipment to get that sound you hear the highs very clearly coming through with the high hat and symbols crystal clear and sharp but not bright which is what gives this track it’s contrast with that warping sub bass effect as if you can picture you are traveling through a super massive black hole.

One thing I thought might be an issue for me with the 8.0 having a dual high driver and then some with a “Ultra” dual high driver as I can be sensitive to treble with some equipment out there and one of the things I found with the very detailed original Heir 4A was the treble was to bright and piercing for my ears despite its ability to strip away the detail it managed to do for an IEM in that price range I was slightly worried that would be the case here but it is actually the opposite and is a pleasant laid back treble which although is not prevailing at all and never takes centre stage over the mids or lows is always there and just seems to compliment the music as it flows.

It seems having the two separate High and Ultra high driver just serves to render the treble end in instruments more accurately as symbols/high hats can sound tonally accurate with no discoloration but the recordings do have to be mastered well to start with for this to happen as the only negative side to this 8.0 IEM is it won’t paper over cracks with poor recordings in the instrument reproduction department it can sound a bit thin on the upper mid's and the highs also sound thinned out so guitars and symbols can sound not real maybe thin sound instead of real tonal sounding notes but as we all know with the poorer recordings out there available to purchase, it is too many unfortunately.

The plus side with poorer brighter recordings with the 8.0’s that I have in my collection are actually easy to listen to as they seem to be very forgiving in this department and do not sound as shrill or piercing as would be with other IEM’s out there which could be to do with it having that warmth.

But here is the flip side, put the 8.0 with a really good mastered recording and you will be in heaven with how they present the music to you...

To me the 8.0 are not an analytical sound and instead of trying to be a studio monitor are more like wanting to be a high pair of headphones for just listening to that record collection without analyzing every detail but just sitting back and enjoying the music like the good old days.

These may not be a detail monster or as fast or attacking like some BA driver IEM’s out there but the overall sound is very immersive with a warm sound but without sounding too thick at the same time apart from maybe the lower mid’s which still have some bite and texture. The is probably not the most fastest in terms of speed and attack but never struggles with faster complex passages but it is more like a heavy weight bass which is rounded and broad across the bowers instead of a sharp punch type low bass impact.

The decay is good on the 8.0’s been able to depict the detail in the sound envelope of that note which helps with instruments such as piano keys, symbols and trailing edge of guitar notes sound accurate tonally within this vast spacious warm body of sound the 8.0 produces.

The mid's are interesting as to me I am a mid-centric listener with my IEM’s or headphones and these do not disappoint as they are slightly prevailing in the overall signature but still not domineering at all where it spoils the rest of the music. One of the really strong assets which make this IEM shine is how well the vocals are done due to the mid's feeling slightly forward with the space and separation the 8.0's have is the vocals always prominent and can be easily heard in any song but the and detail, timbre of vocals really make songs come to life.

Listening to the 8.0’s with my Sony ZX1 Walkman by itself they are still fairly easy to drive although they are a little bit further up the volume scale than my 5.0’s or JH16’s are for the same volume. With the ZX1 Walkman direct the 8.0's are a good pairing and with Michael Jackson's Speed Demon remix by Nero delivering a touch of vibrancy to the proceedings on the top end (not too much though) with the mid's shining through really well but despite the bass not the fastest out there it still handles it all with a clarity and musicality that makes it easy to listen to.
The 8.0 is a good match for the Sony Walkman and would be at “home” when on the move around town with these hooked up. The ZX1 bass matches well with the 8.0’s with clear precise highs that are not over bearing shining through with a powerful yet not over aggressive mid's that the 8.0 helps the ZX1 maintain a good clarity and cohesion through the range as the 8.0’s manage to sound laid back enough without falling over still.

Moving onto with the Chord Hugo though is another dimension opening up what the 8.0 potential can deliver

With the 8.0 plumbed into the Hugo Lee Ritenour’s 6 String Theory track Give me one reason with Joe Bonamassa & Robert Cray playing the electric guitars they play have a nice tonal edge to their guitar playing and take centre stage of the proceedings during solo passages and when the clear and crisp vocals kick in from Joe & Robert the Guitars are still as prominent but just behind the vocals but just as clear and easy to hear every bit of detail on the strings been played slick as oil.

The thing I start to notice when listening to artist such as Rodrigo & Gabriela or Hans Zimmer’s Davinci code soundtrack which the 8.0’s bass is made for by the way! Wow, anyway…

I notice with its gift of wide expansive soundstage and the way it handles stereo imaging give a live feel to even listening to studio albums, none more so than maybe one of my favorite albums in the last ten years Kings Of Leon “Only by the night” sounds so huge, atmospheric and electric with a kick in the upper mid-range sounds live but yet it will still reproduce those albums if they sound flatter or drier how they was recorded or mixed in the studio it will still give that reproduction.

Speaking of sounding live actual “live” albums becomes apparent I think maybe the 8.0s were actually made listening to live CD’s as one of my favorite picks the Fleetwood Mac “The Dance” album & The Chain is ear candy to listen to with Mick Fleetwood’s low bass drum kicking in and the acoustic version of Big Love with Lindsey Buckingham killing it, the strings are so sharp and precise on the track it sounds just like I heard it live in London.

Jeff Beck Live from the Grammy Museum “brush with the blues” the hi-hats and symbol crashes can all be picked out as clearly as the piano can be with the drums picking up pace and getting louder with Beck’s Guitar scaling up the range with increasing loudness making it sound like a mad house it is still all audible and easy to hear everything even though it sounds like instrument Armageddon and then it hits it’s crescendo then short millisecond of silence then back to a quitter passage of slower pace blues ticking over and the background noise on the 8.0’s is very good also during those quitter passages and could not really hear much floor noise.

Even with the warm signature the 8.0’s lend it instruments like Guitars, piano and drum kicks, hi-hats, symbols sound tonally correct on the most part which I think with the overall warm sound they have and open soundstage they have makes these very cohesive with live music just as much as studio albums.

The Hugo just gives that much more detail rendering, control, accuracy, depth and timing as well as adding a sense of natural smoothness to the 8.0’s over my ZX1 Walkman and really becomes an experience as the Hugo is capable of getting the full performance out of the 8 drivers in each ear.

It’s not too hard to work out by now the 8.0’s was at home with Rock, Blues & anything with vocals and Albums from AC-DC, Aerosmith, Muse, Led Zep, Joe Bonamassa, Nickleback, The Who, Slash, Foo Fighters, Clapton, Pink Floyd, Ben Harper, Ryan Adams, Kaki King (check out her acoustic guitar sound on the 8.0’s Wow) any acoustic artist all sound terrific on here but had to tear myself from those to try more Pop, Dance, R&B scene and some classical/Jazz which once in a blue moon I still listen to and with Dance I Threw anything from Moby, Unkle, P.Diddy, K.West, Jay-Z, to D.Guetta, Rudimental, Chase & Status Fat Boy Slim and Public Service Broadcasting (which is really made for the stereo effects for the 8.0 to shine!) and the 8.0’s really suit those genres as well as it feels like the upper mid's and highs are wide of the soundstage and you feel the effect of all the hard hitting bass through the middle then when it hits the bottom it pans out to the sides like a wave.

With any vocals like with the rock music just crystalline at the front of it all with singers if they sound rasp will have that harshness to their voice or gravely vocals sound gritty or smooth vocals will melt you away and the 8.0 will just handle it all in its own pace in a controlled manner and feel these are just at home with Dance/R&B as it is Rock & Blues. There are going to be other BA IEM’s out there that will probably be faster again which will suit Dance/ Techno music better if you just listen to that genre solely but these handle it in its own accomplished way that is fun and enjoyable to still listen to as the 8.0s handle it all with a velvet glove of cohesion.

I’m starting to think it has to have a genre which is a weaker link and with the warmer signature would it suit any classical music but listening to Mahler Symphony No.5 in high res has the sense of space and depth with a very good dynamic range really feels like you are in the concert hall as it envelopes around & over your head as well as from the width of the stage which really stretches these IEM’s for a full work out with the horn section hitting lows to highs very quickly in a svelte manner, again the tonality of instruments really make this sound believable for a IEM that presents a warm signature.

Probably out of all the things to hear on these tracks is the use of the triangle which is perfect which is usually a hard thing to reproduce to sound real and this has a nice solid shimmer to its strike against the triangle with a good timely decay that continues into the blackness of the background as the 8.0 has a good perception of depth to its soundstage as well as the vast width it enjoys also.

After listening to some varied classical which had violins again the strings sound full bodied with each string can really hear the timbre of the vibrations with each lick of the bow going back and forth made my spine tingle at times but the 8.0 sounds comfortable with classical pieces more than I thought it would and actually made me think I should get back to listening to more classical after hearing the above as it was quite seductive!

Jazz can have similar traits with brass, horn type sounds and listening to Trombone Shorty, Miles Davies, Chet Baker and Wynton Marsalis sounds alive with plenty of room to breathe for sax and trombones to hear the full range of timbre in the notes.

In comparison… the 8.0’s to my Heir 5.0’s these are a cross between the 4A’s and but take the best from both and just improve on the finer details, where the 5.0 have that fun warm sound the 8.0’s can give but now with the 8.0’s is in a more open balanced presentation with more prevalent highs to the 5.0 and the soundstage is a little more vaster than the 5.0’s in term of width and head stage giving a more holographic 3d sound feeling.

Because of all that the 8.0’s will probably now suit more genres all round equally well in performance where the 5.0’s just done a few genres really well. What the 8.0’s has taken from the 4.Ai is probably the finer details it was capable of but without sounding to over analytical or bright at any time and of course adds that gorgeous bass extension the 4.Ai simply does not have in comparison.

Compared to my JH16’s which is very interesting indeed as they are both rocking in their own domain here doing their thing like cool hand Luke pulls a trigger on a hot sunny day but they do it differently.
The 16’s probably have that bit more detail rendering than the 8.0’s and more punch, vibrancy, speed and grit to them in the mids to lows and still have a bigger head stage to the 8.0s but the Heirs have such an expansive soundstage and different bass presentation with a velvet glove on vocals and have to say the more accurate treble detail & extension than the 16’s with such an easy cohesion to the 8.0 sound makes the cohesion seamless to listen to that they are both addictive and high end roller in their own right.

If I had to have analogy to apparently make it easier between the two it would be the JH16’s is the digital cd sound out of the two and the 8.0 is the vinyl sound to this soundtrack review of the 8.0’s.

The overall cohesion of these IEM’s is a perfect blend of each spectrum stitched together to give a very musical sound rather than analytical type of IEM although they have a warm sound they are very open expansive soundstage not just in width but also height and everything has its own sense of space around it so is easy to picture where instruments are in front of you when you close your eye, although the mid's come through to the front with a strong mid to low bass presence and the highs possibly been the one that sounds like it does sit behind that out of the three the overall sound is fairly balanced due to the good timing and cohesion lent by the big soundstage when listening as it is executed very well and you really do forget about analyzing music with these and go back to relaxing and enjoying the music.

To sum it up these are not a top end universal trying to be a studio monitor but with their warmth and deep bass will not use the word fun due to they provide an open cohesive yet still detailed presentation amidst the smooth warmth silky like presentation they make these a mature cross between that fun and serious listener sound that makes listening to music easy rather than worrying about the complexities of how it is sounding.

All I know is after a week with them once in my ears I did not take them out for hours on end as they were a very enjoyable accomplished non fatiguing pair of 8-driver BA IEM’s which happen to be universal fit with a nice quality wood finish just for icing on the cake.
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