Heir Audio Tzar 350: High Impedance Ivan

A couple of months ago, I bought the Heir Audio Tzar 350.

Having bought the custom Heir Audio 4.A just a year ago, I was very satisfied with Heir Audio’s level of build quality and customer service, both amongst the very best in the high-end portable audio industry. Their push for high-impedance IEMs was also very unique, and something that I’d been hoping for.

The ‘Tzar” line of Heir Audio universal in-ear monitors comes in two different flavors: the Tzar 90 and the Tzar 350. Since the Tzar 350 is the higher impedance version and the one noted to be the flatter of the two, I decided to purchase the 350.

Heir Audio Tzar 350

Packaging and Build Quality Improvements

When I bought my Heir Audio 4.A last year, I was a little disappointed with the Otterbox-like case it came in. It was the size of the Otterbox 2000, which is good for storing portable amplifiers, DAPs, etc. but way too big for just a pair of IEMs. Heir Audio has now switched over to the Otterbox 1000 size for their universal IEMs, and the size is much more manageable.

While Heir Audio has always had great build quality and craftsmanship, when I got to try out their 3.Ai and 4.Ai universal IEMs earlier in the year, they’d just begun manufacturing universals, and the finishing of the text and faceplates was below my expectations. I was very happy to see that all of the build quality issues had gone away with the Tzars; I’ve since been told that the universal ‘Ai’ series has also implemented all the build quality improvements.

Frequency Response

First off, this is one of the few earphones I’ve heard that really does do 20-16000 Hz (at least to my ears).

However, I do not feel that it is completely flat.

I believe that it has a definite large peak around 6-7.5 kHz (peaking at ~6.8k), which brings out its extreme clarity, but may also bring out harshness, especially in poorly mastered or over-compressed recordings. Heir Audio themselves, via the ‘Wizard’, have alluded to the Tzar 350 possessing an elevated treble level, and in my experience, it is definitely elevated.

In general, I find that knocking down that peak 2.5-3.0 dB (Q-Factor ~3.5) with an EQ tames it down to be acceptable for a wider range of music and a wider range of volumes, though if you sweep through with a frequency sweep, 6-8k will still sound elevated.

The midrange of the Tzar 350 is a bit too flat/boring for my personal tastes; I personally enjoy a little bit of a bump to bring vocals a little closer to the ear — in this sense, I like hearing concentrated vocals and a minor emphasis of vocal harmonics. Because of the lack of vocal emphasis, the 350 may at times sound thinner and more diffuse. I don’t know how much of this type of diffuse presentation may be attributed to phase linearity (or lack thereof), but I suspect it may play a factor.

I don’t think earphones get any faster than the Tzar 350. It makes the Fischer Audio DBA-02 feel slow in comparison. Everything is extremely tight and textured to the upteenth degree. Sheer resolution is incredible; I’ve never heard resolution at this level except in custom IEMs.

Soundstage is nice and wide, as any IEM with good high frequency extension should possess, but it doesn’t quite sound ridiculously wide, as the forward treble also makes certain musical elements like hi-hats and maracas sound a bit too forward in the sound field, sometimes to the point of distracting.

In that sense, the Tzar 350 is analytical at its best and worst.

This is my lazy interpretation of the frequency response (not EQ compensation; I inverted the EQ compensation curve and normalized to zero at 1 kHz) of the Tzar 350; there's a small bump in the lows (probably less in the mid-bass region; it's hard to draw things with EQ points), very, very small recession in the 1.5k and 3k locus, and the bump at 6k. After 8k, I didn't bother listening to tone tests and frequency sweeps over and over again, so that's just an approximation.
This is my lazy interpretation of the frequency response (not EQ compensation; I inverted the EQ compensation curve and normalized to zero at 1 kHz using Electri-Q) of the Tzar 350; there’s a small bump in the lows (probably less in the mid-bass region; it’s hard to draw things with EQ points), very, very small recession in the 1.5k and 3k locus, and the bump at 6k. After 8k, I didn’t bother listening to tone tests and frequency sweeps over and over again, so that’s just an approximation.

Please bear in mind that these thoughts are merely a translation of my own subjective listening experience. Your own hearing threshold levels, canal structure, etc. are different from mine (unless I have a long-lost twin out there somewhere, and even then, environmental factors, transient physiological/pathophysiological states, etc. may cause palpable differences) and your experience may very well differ. Others who also heard the Tzar 350 mostly did not hear the same type of harshness that I attributed to a high-frequency bump, while some did. I am fairly confident that in most people, there is a fairly noticeable high-frequency bump around the 6-8 kHz region, but depending on the specific shape of a person’s ear canal, that type of harsh canal resonance may or may not manifest.

Hearing Safety and Impedance Rating

As someone in the healthcare profession, I am a big proponent of not playing music too loudly. I’m hyper-acute about the increasing prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) amongst users of personal listening devices, so I’m glad that Heir Audio came out with an earphone that’s harder to drive.

To me, the Tzar 350 represents a happy medium of something that doesn’t output SPLs that are too high when driven from a portable device such as an iPod. At 50% volume, the Tzar 350 sounds good out of my iPod Touch, without any hint of trouble. The SPL should be more than adequate for anything and my guess is that it probably exceeds 85 dB. As per OSHA/NIOSH (click here for an explanation written by an Etymotic-sponsored audiologist), people can safely be exposed to sound pressure levels (A-weighted) of 85 dB(A) for no more than 8 hours without potentially causing damage to the ears.

If you desire use of the Tzar 350 with an amplifier, it should be driven easily by any device around. The nice part about the high impedance rating is that damping factor will remain pretty high, even with amplifiers with high output impedance, such as OTL tube amps.

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