64 Audio Nio Review

Nio is the latest hybrid IEM from 64 Audio. Released with great anticipation, it takes some of the pedigree of the U12t and Tia Trio, and brings it down to a lower  – and also very competitive – price point. With great technology and a striking look, is Nio the one for you?

Build and Design

Despite being at the lowest price point of 64 Audio’s universal IEM line, Nio has some extra details which add some visual excitement. In my review of the U12t, I noted its somewhat staid design, but ultimately practical and durable construction. The Nio adds a blue abalone faceplate for a more striking look, but with the same practical design elements. With the gorgeous design and premium accessories included, like a solid travel case and a good selection of eartips, the somewhat flimsy cable is the one weak point of the package.

One of 64 Audio’s signature technologies is the apex modules which provide the listener with the ability to swap different sized vents in and out. Nio includes three apex modules: the m15 (dark grey) is in the Nio by default, the m20 (silver), and the mX (black). You can change them by pulling it out using the grooves in the top for leverage and then pressing the new one in. The specific alignment isn’t particularly important as long as it’s fully and securely in the IEM. The difference between the three is the balance between venting the IEM and providing isolation. Better venting improves the soundstage and provides a better sense of dynamics. There’s some give and take in the bass, where greater isolation adds some impact, but at the cost of the overall quality of the bass. I personally preferred the more open, natural sound of the mX apex module, but used the m15 for most of the testing, since that’s the module installed in the Nio out of the box.

The Sound

Above all else, Nio is very well balanced. It’s a little bit more warm and musical than it is neutral and analytical, but it largely remains towards the middle of the spectrum. It delivers tight punchy bass with plenty of detail in the mids and a touch of brightness in the treble. The subbass extension is excellent and provides low physical rumbles when the time is right. The Nio provides a very natural timbre for vocals and acoustic instruments, and places the vocals right in the middle of the mix – not too forward nor recessed. The soundstage provides a good sense of space, but rarely feels particularly large.

After several listening sessions to burn them in a bit and get used to the sound, I started my more analytical listening with Stanton Moore’s “Tchfunkta,” a jazz funk romp, featuring a nasty groove and dueling guitars and trumpets. With the Nio, there was a nice punch to the bass hits, and a satisfying pop from the snare. The cymbals were crisp and the attack and decay felt just right. As the guitar and horns battled on either side of the stage, the levels were well balanced, and neither felt sharp or harsh.

64 Audio Nio iBasso DX220 Max

On “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, the bass impact was solid and there was clear separation between the different instrumental layers across the full frequency spectrum. The vocals were forward and clear, but at points the reverb reflections were a little bit too noticeable over the dry vocal. The song is very heavily “brickwalled” and the Nio did a good job of providing some sense of dynamics even when dynamics were not a strong suit of the original recording.

The acoustic guitar driven “Better Together” by Jack Johnson gave the Nio a chance to demonstrate how natural and lifelike it can sound. Every aspect of the vocal and instrumental track sounded dead on, from the ring of the ride cymbal to the snap of the snare. Listening with the Nio felt very personal, and if I closed my eyes, I could almost place myself in the studio with the band.

Moving on to some classic rock, on “More than a Feeling,” the Nio demonstrated excellent dynamics, as well as incredible separation and detail within each layer. The guitar tone is excellent throughout, and the dynamics and overdubs in the solo section are deftly delivered. This song also served as the best demonstration of Nio’s soundstage as the mix and dynamics really made it feel arena big for a moment.

For my general listening with Nio, I used the Astell&Kern SE200, iBasso DX220 Max, and Chord Hugo 2. For notes about the specific characteristics of each, you can see the respective reviews for the SE200, DX220 Max, and Hugo 2. For the comparisons I stuck with the Hugo 2 to make sure I had the same baseline for everything.

Comparison: Campfire Audio Solaris, 64 Audio U12t, Empire Ears Valkyrie

To really get a feel for what the Nio brings to the table, I brought a few friends along: the Campfire Solaris, 64 Audio U12t, and Empire Ears Valkyrie – basically a who’s who of IEMs in the $1500-$2000 price range. As the Nio is incredibly well balanced, I felt that it would be really helpful to have a number of direct comparisons with other IEMs using some of the same songs I used to evaluate the Nio.

64 Audio Nio

64 Audio U12t

Campfire Solaris

Empire Ears Valkyrie

Price

$1699

$1999

$1499

$1699

Crossover

4-Way Passive

4-Way Passive

Single Crossover

4-Way SynX

Frequency Response

105db dB/mW

108db dB/mW

115db dB/mW

96db dB/mW

Frequency Response

10Hz - 20kHz

10Hz - 20kHz

5Hz - 20kHz

4Hz - 100kHz

Disctinctive Features

Balanced and versatile

Fast, responsive, incredible soundstage

Warm, natural sound

Powerful bass combined with sparkling highs

 

On “Tchfunkta” the Solaris provided a little bit more subbass extension than the Nio, and also a little more presence in the mids, but the horns on the left side were a bit harsh and overpowered the guitar on the right, where the Nio felt more balanced. The signature of the U12t was somewhat similar to the Nio, but with a little less impact in the bass. The U12t also had the strongest sense of space and the most concrete feeling of positioning – particularly during the drum solo, where it really placed you in the drummer’s seat. While the Valkyrie provided the strongest subbass, it also lacked some detail in the mids, and while the guitar and trumpet were well balanced against each other, they both had some harsh overtones.

The Valkyrie really had a chance to shine with Lady Gaga, clearly delivering some of the percussion accents that were harder to hear on the other IEMs and providing some really intense imaging at points – enough to make me involuntarily turn my head when a backup vocal came in from the left side. The Solaris was similar to the Nio, but with a bit more subbass. It really captured the pulsating feeling of the synth bass but it lacked the impact of the Nio. The U12t had excellent detail and separation through, and provided the most natural sounding vocals, but ranked under both the Nio and Solaris in terms of the physical aspect of the bass.

Again, with “Better Together.” the Solaris provided a similar experience to the Nio with a very natural sounding performance. The main difference was that the Solaris provided a little more bass while the Nio had more detail in the cymbals and drums. On the flip side, the Valkyrie and U12t just didn’t have the goods with this song like the Nio and Solaris did. The guitars were a little too bright, and the vocals a little too recessed. Both provided a great deal of interesting detail from the guitar and cymbals, but neither had the natural musical feel of the Nio and Solaris.

64 Audio Nio, U12t, Campfire Solaris, Empire Ears Valkyrie Comparison

On “More Than a Feeling,” the U12t and Solaris were both very similar to the Nio, with the Solaris being a little warmer, and the U12t a little brighter. The U12t had probably the best sense of being in a massive arena with the band on stage. On the Valkyrie, the drums are a little too forward, but very detailed. The guitars felt thin and harsh at times as with the combination of Tom Scholz’s guitar sound, which is defined by scooped mids, and the Valkyrie’s v-shaped tuning, there’s too much midrange missing.

Overall, the Solaris and Nio sound like sonic cousins, with the Solaris having a little more depth in the bass, while the Nio has a little more punch. The Nio also has a touch of brightness in the highs where the Solaris feels smoother. The U12t is the king of soundstage and detail, but – in spite of having some of the best balanced armature bass in the world – it doesn’t have the warmth and impact you get from a dynamic driver. The Valkyrie felt like the odd man out, as it has a more exaggerated tuning and excelled with electronic instruments and modern mixes, but it’s sound signature doesn’t provide the same natural quality as the Nio or Solaris.

The Bottom Line

What does it all mean? The Nio is the lord of balance. While it doesn’t have many characteristics which stand out as particularly amazing, it’s incredibly versatile, and provides a sound signature that’s open and natural with a good blend of fun and detail. As an all-around great IEM, the Nio stands tall among some of the best in the world.