Heir Audio 3.Ai Review. The 3.Ai's are an interesting entry level IEM with three balanced armature drivers for a pristine, yet colour rich, experience with any DAP or on stage musician.
Designed by 'The Wizard' (AKA. Dr. John Moulton), Heir Audio is a brand which makes use of multiple armature designs with perfectly 'by ear' tuned crossovers that are handcrafted, to order, in small batches. Producing both IEM's (In Ear Monitors) and CIEM's (Custom In Ear Monitors), the entire Heir Audio range represents incredible style, performance, and value for money. Having tested a massive number of IEM's throughout our history, we have been lucky enough to review a number of Heir Audio products, where they are, by far, some of the finest IEM designs that we have ever encountered. It is possible that you may not have heard of the Heir Audio brand before, but after this you will be reaching for a pair of these beauties. With this aside, today we shall be reviewing the entry level Heir Audio IEM, the 3.Ai.
Before commencing with this review it is vital to explain the purchasing process. First I recommend that you only purchase Heir Audio products via their website, purchasing Heir Audio products from third-party dealers will cost more than anticipated. Placing an order on the Heir Audio website is easy, all you have to do is fill out the form and process your payment via PayPal, after this you will receive a confirmation email that informs you of the estimated time of arrival. Depending on the time of the month, your order can take up to six weeks to arrive in your hands, but they are well worth the wait.
Arriving in a small brown box baring the Heir Audio and Micro-DSP logo, it is immediately noticeable that this is not a product that is marketed in a typical graphically rich retail environment. Regardless of any external aesthetic taste, the Heir Audio brand is much more concerned with providing you with the product it contains inside and, crucially in terms of transit, the internal packaging is more than adequate with a medium density foam capsule. Surprisingly noticeable is the presentation of the internal package, Heir Audio have outdone themselves with the inclusion of a small black OtterBox style case with the Heir Audio logo presented on a brushed silver sticker. Saying this, I can imagine that this thick plastic box would survive a nuclear holocaust as it is extremely well made, has a multiple point hinge that is supported by a steel bar, and a click latch that takes some strong fingers to open. In fact Heir Audio quote on their website that this box can survive a dynamic load force of anything up to 200kg, so, typically at this price-point, you would not expect to receive such a 'protect and serve' carry case that goes beyond a unique materialistic aspect to be genuinely functional for both the regular gigging musician, or for the consumer on the move.
Inside the hard case you will find a pair of your carefully made 3.Ai's with beautiful 'one-of- a kind' wood veneers, the removable stereo balanced twist braided cable, an earphone cleaning tool with brush and wax pick. Also contained within the package are three different types of ear tips, double flange fit tips, hard-feel rubber tips, and medium-soft tips. All of the listed ear tips come in four variable sizes, and it is important that you should demo each pair until you find the perfect overall sound, fit, and comfort. Notably the end of the root into the ear cannel is outwardly flared to prevent the tips coming off during use, but this can make it a fiddly operation to demo each pair of tips, but take the time as it can make a huge difference to your experience.
With the IEM housings made from high-quality hand picked hand carved exotic wood veneers, and an acrylic compound that sourced from Germany, Heir Audio have gone to great lengths to ensure that the driver housing materials are of the best quality possible. In fact Heir Audio make it a fundamental right for all customers that, regardless of the price, each order will be delivered with the same high-quality construction as found across their IEM and CIEM range, and, as a general overview, I can say that that the 3.Ai construction is highly detailed, appears sturdy in the hand, and is resilient to scratch-damage with a highly durable polished finish. Noting incredible lengths of detail, Heir Audio go one further by lazer-engraving a serial number onto each driver housing just incase you loose your pair and someone finds them. Recently a pair of Heir Audio CIEM 8.Ai's were found by a lecturers student at Southampton University in the UK, and subsequently they were happily reunited to their rightful owner.
Whilst the footprint of the 3.Ai's isn't super tiny, I will say that they will fit well with smaller ears. With my ears being quite small, I have found no issue, so we no move onto a discussion of the importance of the ear tips included and what this means in terms of passive internal and external noise isolation. When in use, at a moderate level, the sound leakage is minimal and the external rejection is also very good but, as stated, you will need to play around with the included ear tips to reach the right fit. Overall this can make a huge difference in comfort, perceived sound replication, and noise isolation, so this is a very important initial process to get right. For what it matters the 3.Ai's have a universal tip fit that means that you can use the included ear tips, which are of a very good standard, or you can just pop on your own if you already have a favourite pair. Personally I found the grey and red tips included to be more than capable, and I am very happy with them.
Featuring a ridged curved clear-tube cable hook 'over-the-ear' design, the 3.Ai's housing is paired with this cable design to be weight balanced and contoured in such a harmonious way that the accessory fits unobtrusive, and flush, within the inner ear during use. In a detailed analysis of the braided cable, I would like to say that I do not see any problem with the stock cable apart from that the 90° termination 3.5mm jack could be a little bit more stable, and you will have to be careful if you are wearing any zip-up garments as the cable can catch even though it has a smooth finish. Notably this cable can be replaced, and although I fully appreciate the application of this type of earphone, I feel the need to point out that the connection point is on the top of the driver housing in a dual prong design, so we do not recommend that you use this pair of IEM's out on the street where moisture can get in through the top. Alternatively, if you feel the need upgrade the cable then Heir Audio do offer a Magnus cable upgrade that has a 3.5mm Neutrik 3.5mm termination which can moderately increase fidelity. Just like any IEM used in a professional environment, the 3.Ai should be used with care, not dropped, and should be dried with tissue to protect the internal mechanism. Overall I feel that the build quality of the 3.Ai's is exceptional and, even in the unlikely situation that you were to damage the earphones, you can send them away to be repaired for a modest fee.
If you are someone who is used to listening to a pair of earphones, regardless of price, that feature just a single armature or dynamic driver then you will be in for an immediate surprise. Remembering that any pair of earphones need to be broken in for approximately 40 hours, the 3.Ai's contain three balanced drivers that have precision tuned crossovers for bass, mid, and upper-mid/treble. Resulting in an an elegant sound that breathes sheer clarity, the 3.Ai's beautifully present what musical fidelity really is. With blacks seeming black and whites being white, the sound produced by these beasts is effortlessly powerful, open, and truly dynamic, but it is all these sonic descriptors that come together hand-in-hand with an awing presence to blow most competitors, in this price range, right out of the water.
Saying the above is all well and good, but where is the meat, what sound will I be getting, and are these suitable for portable music players? Well, when Heir Audio was designing the 3.Ai's they wanted a product that would be great for the average consumer so they designed them with this in mind. Typically hovering around a 16Ω rating, the 3.Ai's are well suited to be paired with the average music player without the need for a portable amplifier, and they don't cost your battery too much juice either. We have tested the 3.Ai's with many different playback devices and have always found them to translate well whilst being exceptionally reliable in terms of the way that they perform. They have a bit of a playful sonic signature, they are fun, they do compliment the modern music aesthetic, and noting this let's move on to a frequency specific descriptive.
Starting with the lows, they appear to be extended and go very deep with a precise rounded texture. You do get some of that gut wrenching punch here, but no too much as the deep lows aren't quite present, and the best part of this frequency range is the flowing low-mids... they are gorgeously smooth and melt like butter. I have played around with some different music genres and have found that some electronic bass lines to sound like they are from a different planet for this price-range. The sonic signature here really isn't focussed on happy eq'ing or creating a sound that is totally unrealistic, and the 3.Ai is more like a guide to good listening; almost as if this is the beginning of a new chapter in your perception of music. However, you do have a more than satisfactory hi-fi sound here that, even when pushed, doesn't distort the bass. The mids are nice and slightly down scoped with a love for vocals, and the band is presented well. Usually the mids can marge into muds in this price-range, but the 3.Ai delivers solid warming character with a modest imaging. This quality extends into the highs, where they are not overly extended and do give an airy quality without being too much or loosing detail. High range synths or drum kit cymbals are presented with grace without an overly crisp image. I expect that the extreme high mild low-pass effect is to accommodate listeners who will be listening at volume, and additionally I find the overall sonic character quite pleasing to the ear. The bottom line is that this is an IEM with an excellent fidelity and sonic signature.
In conclusion the Heir Audio 3.Ai's come with an impressive array of extras, have a build quality that is exceptional or second-to-none, and have found no real basis for criticism. The sonic signature here is slightly warming without being overbearing, playful, and presented well. You will notice that the sonic character here has a special clarity produced from the multiple armature design that is mind-blowing in this price-range. Overall the Heir Audio 3.Ai package is exceptional in all classes, and I have personally grown a fond appreciation for their products. Finally The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Heir Audio 3.Ai's with a full five out of five rating.