(Last Updated On: June 18, 2019)

The journey to the summit of portable audio is fraught with hazards and bad decisions. But once in a while, something comes along that demands your undivided attention, daring you to take the plunge. This is the unraveling of 64 Audio’s finest masterpiece, the tia Fourté.

Ambition. According to an ancient Chinese proverb (ok, a classic Hong Kong film), “without ambition, you are no different than salted fish”. No point dreaming about lofty heights when you’re bathed and baked in sunlight until crispy. But with truckloads of ambition, and some hard work, ingenuity, and luck; even fish, salted or not, can fly.

64 Audio has been the epitome of ambition in the in-ear monitor (IEM) arena. From their humble beginnings as 1964 Ears, they have made an epic journey, even a pilgrimage, to sit amongst the titans of portable audio today. Innovation has always been their forte. Not only do they want your IEMs to look and sound good, they want you to hold a technological marvel in your hands.

Brimming with personality, even when left on a rock.
Brimming with personality, even when left on a rock.

tia Fourté

“You’ve never heard anything like the Fourté. The daring, unique tuning and jaw-dropping presentation will hook you in as soon as you press play. I love Fourté irrationally for the way it consistently thrills and surprises me with pomp and bravado at every turn. Maybe it might move you the same way.

Pros:

  • »Excellent build quality
  • »Fuss-free fit with supreme comfort
  • »Well-implemented technological firsts
  • »Captivating, unique sound signature
  • »Elite tier resolution and transparency
  • »Natural, deep-reaching and swift bass
  • »The most euphoric and splendid treble I’ve ever heard
  • »Largest soundstage I’ve heard in IEMs
  • »Stellar imaging and separation

Cons:

  • »Price!
  • »Lacklustre packaging
  • »Bare-bones accessories
  • »Polarizing design and color choice
  • »Uninspired stock cable
  • »Incoherent sound signature
  • »Uneven mids tuning
  • »Sometimes sibilant treble

Technical Specifications

  • Transducer Type: 3 precision BA drivers, 1 dynamic driver
  • Transducer Configuration: 1 tia high, 1 high-mid, 1 tia mid, 1 dynamic low
  • Freq. Response: 5Hz – 22KHz
  • Sensitivity: 114db @1kHZ @1mw
  • Impedance: 10 Ω @ 1kHz
  • Crossover: Integrated 4-way passive crossover
  • Isolation: -20dB internal apex technology

Acronyms Galore

They were the first company to adopt ADEL (Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens) modules, before coming up with their own apex (Air Pressure EXchange) venting technology. Apex helps reduce pneumatic pressure in the ear canal, which causes ear fatigue. Their crowning achievement, however, are the tia (Tubeless In-ear Audio) drivers.

Tia drivers are opened-up balanced armatures (BAs) that direct sound into the IEM chamber as opposed to conventional sound tubes. They are quite literally, drivers with the lid blown off, or with the roof raised, and bring extra clarity and transparency to the sound. 64 are so proud of them, that they are trickled down to most of their lineup today, like milking a prodigy for all its worth lol.
The Savior of Head-Fi. Would you like to pay by cash or cheque?
The Savior of Head-Fi. Would you like to pay by cash or cheque?

The Stuff of Fairytales

Today we look at the flagship that made all 64’s fairy tales come true, the tia Fourté. Introduced in 2016, the Fourté was the culmination of their IEM-crafting knowhow condensed into an aluminium casing the size of a gumball. It has apex, it has tia, it has frequency-shaping acoustic chambers, it has the hopes and tears and fears of their engineers… the whole shebang.

The driver configuration of the Fourté can only be described as Frankenstein-like. It has a dynamic driver for bass, two tia drivers for handling mids and treble, and a conventional BA for high-mid frequencies. It’s a collection of misfits and miscreants not unlike the Fast and Furious dudes, with the united aim of unleashing ultimate sonic fidelity in mind.

Tia Fourté retails for an astronomical $3599 and is available at their official site. Upon release, consumers like me were ready to burn them at the stake for the price tag. But I got hooked after one listen at an audio show, and purchased one used.

This wasn’t your usual drivers, crossovers and tubes, it was something completely new, and maybe ahead of its time.

Really brought out the big guns for testing.
Really brought out the big guns for testing.

Equipment Used:

DAP

  • Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0

IEMs

Albums Listened

  • Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Denean – The Weaving
  • Ed Sheeran – X
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  • Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
  • Melissa Menago – Little Crimes
  • Michael Jackson – The Essential
  • Simon and Garfunkel – The Essential
  • Taylor Swift – 1989

Packaging and Accessories

Let’s start off with the most disappointing aspect of the Fourté, the uninspired packaging. If you paid full retail for them on pre-order and received this regular cardboard box with an extremely pedestrian accessory set, I can already imagine the look on your face. And maybe a “chump” stamped across the forehead lol.

Purely Perfunctory

For the sake of completeness let’s run down the list of stuff you’re getting:

  • A case (which you might not use),
  • 6 pairs of ear tips (3 pairs foam and 3 pairs silicone in various sizes),
  • cable,
  • shirt clip,
  • cleaning tool,
  • and a uh, sticker.

From the retail price, maybe about $100 went to the packaging and accessories. Everything else went to R&D and the earphones themselves, maybe even a retirement fund.

So you feel like you just paid top dollar to get front row seats, only to have a really sweaty guy next to you. Don’t despair, it gets better from here.

Even in paradise, there’s bound to be a mud puddle or two.

Threadbare wares, or sparse farce?
Threadbare wares, or sparse farce?

Design and Build Quality

The Fourté’s design is polarising from the outset. The immaculate black aluminum shells are cut with precision and sleek to the touch, but the copper faceplate might turn heads for the wrong reasons. Billed as a unique finishing with varying degrees of patina, the orange/green combo has been described as classy or looking like erm, stomach contents, depending on where you stand.

Personally, the design takes getting used to, but as a friend once said, once you put them in your ears, it becomes someone else’s problem.

Heavy Metal

Things look up for build quality. The earpieces are machined out of a single block of aluminium and feel rock solid. They have to be, since each earpiece contains every new technology 64 Audio has developed so far, including the kitchen sink. The apex modules, tia drivers and so on have to be kept in tip-top shape, and precisely where they are to perform; and the well-built shells allow the components to do their jobs unimpeded.

Of speckles and freckles, and a faceplate subject to heckles.
Of speckles and freckles, and a faceplate subject to heckles.

Cables

This is tricky. The stock cable meant for 64 Audio’s higher-end IEMs has a name, and it’s simply called the Premium Cable. Yes, hurrah. While looks can be deceiving, it is an actual upgrade to the conventional Plastics One cable we’re all so used to. The 4-wire Premium Cable looks ordinary as heck, but is made from ultra-low resistance silver-plated copper.

You’re Special?

In the sound department I can’t complain. Compared to Plastics One it does deliver a tighter, more disciplined lower end, and better resolution across the board. I just don’t fancy how unremarkable it looks, from the plain-Jane connectors, simple Y-split to the 90-degree 3.5mm jack, it’s as humdrum as it goes. It also tangles like a mofo, so you know I’m not fond of this.

Believe it or not, the cable can actually be purchased separately at $129, with an additional $50 for balanced 2.5mm or 4.4mm jacks. I’m not saying you should buy it, but it is an option, however uninformed. *Cough cough* there are many other aftermarket cables available at this price. *Hint hint*

The cable wasn't enough to rope me in.
The cable wasn’t enough to rope me in.

Fit, Comfort and Isolation

Being a specialist of custom IEMs, 64 Audio kind of put themselves in a spot when their flagship product is only available as a universal fit. There were plans to develop a custom version of Fourté; but its unique, pristine sound can only be produced if the acoustic chamber within each earpiece is consistent. A custom version adhering to individual ear shapes and sizes, simply produced too many variances.

So we are stuck with this black thing, like it or not. For the most part, the fit will agree with most ears, since it’s a medium-sized shell without awkward bumps or ridges. It’s a fairly straightforward fit. The weightlessness and smooth edges of the aluminum shells shine through, providing endless, pillow-like (might be an exaggeration) comfort. They’re not bad, just don’t hold your breath for a custom version.

Not Really Alone

Sound isolation is average. The nozzles are not meant for deep insertion (unless you source your own double-flange or triple-flange ear tips), and the shells are vented to accommodate the dynamic driver. So at best Fourté isolates 80% of outside noise, but you will hear some background humming when taking the train or airplane. Don’t cry dude, we’ve all been there.

Worth its weight in gold, and then some.
Worth its weight in gold, and then some.

Sound Quality

So for something priced at an unholy $3599, and given the lackluster packaging, bare-bones accessories, and passable build quality; you might be wondering where all the money went. It’s high time for the Fourté to prove itself where it matters most. Not the technology, not the gung-ho marketing, but whether it sounds good enough to warrant the asking price, or just an old-fashioned shellacking. With whips.

Overall Sound Signature

Unlike many other flagships which strive for neutrality, tonal accuracy and resolution, Fourté’s presentation is meant to wow you, mouth agape, from the get-go. The tuning is discreetly U-shaped, and somehow uses every trick in the book to maximize air and the impression of space.

On describing the sound, Fourté can do it all. The bass is rumbly and analogue, with authentic, rounded punches. The mids are warm yet sufficiently detailed and textured, never outshone by the magnanimous bass and treble. But the treble, oh my the treble, is a highlight worth savoring over and over again. Kinda like Pringles, because once you pop…

Supermassive Black Hole

To further up the ante on the wow factor, the playground for this sonic madness is mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly huge.

Fourté has the largest and airiest soundstage I’ve ever heard in an IEM. Hearing the sparkly treble and the tremendous soundstage together – I’m drawing religious parallels here – is like having a purpose, or seeing light for the first time. It’s humbling, invigorating, and kinda like Pringles again, but godlier.

Before you press the buy button, here’s an awful truth. The Fourté might be crushed by the weight of its own ambitions. In pursuit of the best everything, it loses marks in coherence. The rounded, organic bass hits sound out of place with the sharp, bright treble, with a contrast that’s jarring. Like the Avengers teaming up for the first time, behaving as individuals rather than a singular, unified team. It’s not unlistenable but does take getting used to.

Listening conditions

Critical listening was done after 100 hours of burn-in. It’s a used item, but you never know where they’ve been. The previous owner might have undone all the hours of burn-in by listening to music backwards. I’m not paranoid, just superstitious lol.

The main review rig was Sony’s NW-WM1A Walkman modded by Project K with the stock cable. The ear tips of choice were medium-sized Symbio N, which provided the best sound isolation and comfort.

Blooming heck, eh?
Blooming heck, eh?

Bass

While everyone talks about leveling up, Fourté’s bass is all about doubling down. With a single dynamic driver leading the charge, the bass plunges into the abyss and stays around for lasting impact. Sub-bass reach is nigh-on impressive, hitting the lowest of blows so they are both felt and heard. The air-moving sensation is authoritative, physical, and pack a killer wallop!

Notes are smooth and well-rounded, with a hard-hitting attack followed by a rapid, yet unforced decay. Compared to the visceral, bottom-dwelling, bottom-loving sub-bass, the midbass is tamer. They are lean and mean but still bring the slam and punch, like special moves in, uh, Mortal Kombat. The midbass blooms naturally and decays briskly, leaving an abundance of air and cleaning up the stage posthaste.

Bountiful Bottom

But even with the warmth and air-moving physicality, Fourté is able to resolve fantastic amounts of bass detail. Layering is astounding, with the high resolution unearthing and revealing oodles of detail, while cleanly separating them. It’s a delight taking in the bass all at once and not hearing a muddled mess.

Overall, it’s a bass that is intricately detailed, yet pulsatingly fun. It spares no effort in starting and maintaining the beat and rhythm of the song, inviting the listener to join in the party. And like a good party guest he never outstays his welcome. Once he’s had his fill, out the door he goes. Like a friend everyone deserves, Fourté’s bass is class all the way.

Mids

I am a manly man, and wash my face foolhardily with soap and water. But every now and then when I feel the need to pamper myself, I whip out a fancy foamy facial scrub. The soft, smooth foam contrasts with the rough, granular exfoliants rubbing against my face, creating an unduplicated sensation. Until now.

On one end, the mids are steeped in mellow warmth and organicity, but at the other end unhinged with shrillness and brightness. With the full, rounded bass anchoring the lower end of the signature, the lower mids are full and natural. However, as we ascend toward the upper mids, notes take on a zingy edge, with a grainier texture as they resolve more and more detail.

Impeccable Imbalance

The mids placement is a step behind the more prominent bass and treble. Note size is just right, never too thin-sounding, while instrument layering is stellar thanks to the airy and detailed mids rendering. The overall timbre is affected by this unique mids presentation, sounding both warm and bright. At best, the mids presentation is distinctive and remarkable; but at its worst, it sounds inconsistent and unnatural.

What it does best, however, is resolve remarkable amounts of detail, with an emphasis on clarity, articulation, and transparency. No detail gets lost here, none at all, as long as you get used to the tone.

Sounds addictive, but the radioactivity is optional.
Sounds addictive, but the radioactivity is optional.

Treble

Growing up in a conservative nation, I abhorred and tolerated censorship in all forms. I yearn to be my own moral police, unbleeping cusswords and lifting black bars so I can see everything in its true form, unaltered and unfiltered. It’s actually because I like to look at jiggly bits, but yeah, freedom and liberty and all that too.

Fourté’s treble is not the most accurate nor truest to life, but resolves detail like there’s no tomorrow. No aspect of the sound, however minuscule or minute, is spared. Everything is laid bare, warts and all. This is thanks to a lower treble peak, and another one at the middle treble, interpreting treble with the highest resolution possible, with a bright slant to the timbre.

You’ve never heard sparkles until you’ve heard the Fourté’s sparkle, it’s shining, shimmering, splendid.

Soar Forevermore

Notes are fine but edgy, depicting texture so vivid you can palpate them with your ears. A bountiful amount of air surrounds each note, so they are cleanly separated and easily heard. It’s an ethereal, otherworldly feeling. The ultra resolution does hurt the Fourté when it comes to poorly mastered recordings, you will hear imperfections like studio artifacts, audio feedback, random boops, and blips.

On the flipside, Fourté immerses you into the music like no other, and you swear you can hear pages turning, feet shuffling, and eerie micro-details captured on recordings. But back to the treble, soaring skywards and never looking down. You will be enthralled, captivated and sometimes hurt (it does get sibilant), but if you dare to take the plunge (or rise, more precisely), Fourté will take you on a journey into the unknown, to a whole new world.

Songs about rainbows and what's on the other side.
Songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side.

Soundstage and Imaging

I’m constantly reminded of the Beatles’ Across the Universe here, because when earthly ideas and virtues aren’t enough anymore, we look to the cosmos. Fourté may well possess the largest and most atmospheric soundstage in IEMs today.

It is gobsmackingly massive in width, height and especially depth, like Ben Hur, Star Wars and Gladiator rolled into one.

We’re talking the scale of concert halls and stadia, the epoch of epicness in action. Listening to the Fourté, at times I could’ve sworn someone was calling me from across the room, or a party was going on next door. This is hyperbole, but I’m hyperventilating. The vast expanse and sheer magnitude of the stage dimensions go on and on and on across the… well you get it now.

Ad Infinitum

Imaging is among the elite. Given a huge space to play with, and aided by ungodly amounts of air, notes, and passages are easily dissected and scrutinized, with pinpoint-accurate placement. Despite the size, the stage diffuses naturally and does not sound disjointed one bit. Moreover, the beautiful black background helps in sharpening the imagery further, as notes attack and fade hurriedly into the infinite darkness of space.

Make no mistake, Fourté hit it out of the park here. It traverses the very limits of soundstage and imaging capabilities in an IEM, and threatens to go further. The very definition of epic, it will make a believer out of you.

Keeping things classy like Freddie Blassie.
Keeping things classy like Freddie Blassie.

Comparisons

Jomo Audio Flamenco

Flamenco is an 11BA masterpiece showcasing Jomo Audio’s tuning philosophy in conveying great speed and detail while still sounding melodious and enjoyable. I once called Flamenco “the final word in clarity, detail and resolution“, but that needs rethinking now.

But first, the positives. Flamenco conveys a more realistic timbre than Fourté in mids and treble. Instruments and vocals sound more lifelike despite possessing thinner, speedier notes overall. There’s also a more unified coherence to the sound signature that’s easy to immerse yourself with. Flamenco presents itself as a serious audiophile’s tool, precise and meticulous.

The Quick and the Dead

Here’s where it might go downhill for the Flamenco, depending on your preferences. Fourté is, unequivocally, more transparent and extends further, particularly in the treble. Flamenco sounds tame and smooth in comparison, despite being known as a detail monster too. Imagine Flamenco being a window to the music, whereas Fourté removes the window altogether and puts you in the thick of the action.

Thanks to the dynamic driver, Fourté’s bass sounds more natural and visceral compared to Flamenco’s clinical and tight bass. It’s a no contest in the soundstage department too, with Fourté simply dwarfing the modest Flamenco in sheer size and scale. Flamenco might be an imaging masterclass, but Fourté exacts similar imaging precision thanks to the huge soundstage and abundant air carrying each note. All in all, Fourté gets my nod.

Tremble at the sight of the enfants terribles of treble.
Tremble at the sight of the enfants terribles of treble.

Empire Ears Legend X

Fourté and Legend X are two hybrid titans at the height of their powers, with different tuning philosophies. Legend X builds its sound upon a solid, bulletproof low-end, while Fourté ventures skywards with a transparent, treble-focused sound. Both feature elite levels of resolution, balanced with foot-tapping, head-bopping fun.

Two Sides of a Coin

Legend X wows listeners with the intense, full-bodied and tubthumping bass, in all its grandiose glory. It’s a bass-first signature that doesn’t shy from hitting hard and often. The extension down low and layering ability are unrivalled, Fourté included. However, the bass can be overwhelming, and Fourté provides reprieve with a quicker and tighter bass that satisfies with its measured hits.

Similarly, Fourté has an extraordinary, even preposterous amount of treble extension and sparkle, but can be the sonic equivalent of staring into the sun. Legend X reins it in, providing just enough extension but dials down the excitement levels for a smoother, more involved listen.

One Million Dollars

In terms of tuning, Fourté is more the risk-taker, like Austin “danger is my middle name” Powers. More intent to awe and surprise the listener with technical wizardry, while Legend X leans on a safer, mellower tuning. Legend X has the upper hand in coherence, timbre and mids tuning, but when Fourté gets it right, dear lord, it absolutely floors you.

The combination of supreme airiness, soundstage size and treble extension masks Fourté’s sonic flaws very well. With the right songs – particularly binaural, EDM, and maybe jazz – it approaches divinity. You shudder because you’ve never heard music presented this way, like they were meant for the ears of celestial beings. Although Legend X seems the saner, safer IEM to own, Fourté is capable of delivering highs like no other.

Brimming with personality, even when left on a rock.
Brimming with personality, even when left on a rock.

Final Words

If Fourté was a film, it would be a special effects-driven action/fantasy. A visual and aural extravaganza, it would easily win awards in technical departments like sound editing and visual effects. It isn’t a character-driven, triumph-against-all-odds drama that would scoop Best Picture, much like how IEMs with the most accurate timbre consistently get the most accolades.

64 Audio’s tia Fourté, the USD3599 mega-flagship, is a hard sell. It has its flaws, that to many will seem unacceptable given the asking price. The wonky timbre and weird incoherence will throw off many a seasoned audio connoisseur. But I implore you to listen before you judge. If ever you get the opportunity to test them, hold on to that chance like the last piece of chocolate in the box, because other people will be gunning for it too.

Intensely Yours

I remember the first time auditioning them to this day. Fourte’s sound stuck as profoundly as a first kiss, or the best steak of my life. A beautiful, untainted memory. And boy did I crave the inimitable, incredible and magical treble and soundstage. The craving was real. I had withdrawal symptoms wondering how the Fourté might interpret a treble-intensive or particularly atmospheric passage. There were gaping holes in my ears that needed filling, so to speak.

Stick with its lows, and I promise you, dear reader, there are many rewards to be reaped. You’ve never heard anything like the Fourté. The daring, unique tuning and jaw-dropping presentation will hook you in as soon as you press play. I love Fourté irrationally for the way it consistently thrills and surprises me with pomp and bravado at every turn. Maybe it might move you the same way.