The A18s has a very fierce competition right now if you ask me. We have seen a lot of companies release new flagships in the past year. But most of them were universal only, and since I want to keep this article on customs, I am excluding these here. We will check out how the A18s compares against its stable-mates A18t and A12t. Of course we will also take a look at how the A18s fares up against its competition outside of 64 Audio.
A monitor I would love to compare the A18s to is the Elysium by Vision Ears. I had it for about two months before I sent it back to Italy to its creator. I know it’s a very popular IEM right now, but it’s no longer living with me. If there are comparisons that you’d like to see included, tell me in the comment section below, if I have them in my inventory, I gladly share some comparisons.
I can only compare the A18s to other monitors that I have direct access to. That means, that I won’t give you anything on monitors that I only auditioned at a dealer’s place or during audio shows. I don’t think these impressions are anything close to ideal, and for that matter, I won’t ever share those publicly.
All comparisons are done using the respective stock cables. Mentioned prices are in USD for their custom built variants and correct at the time of writing. Some manufacturers offer their universal versions at a cheaper price.
64 Audio – A18t (18BA; 2,999$)
The A18t was introduced in late 2016, since then it has served as the company’s flagship custom IEM. In the past years, there hasn’t been an update or a new iteration to the A18t. While most manufacturers follow a product cycle of two years, it’s great to see 64 Audio not going that route.
Both monitors of course share a lot in their sound. But to me, there are distinctive differences between them. The A18s for example has a warmer and mellower sound, compared to the super neutral A18t. Both of them reach very deep into sub-bass, and I can’t say if one goes deeper than the other. The A18s however, puts more weight and presence in the bass region, which makes it sound more forward. The A18t has a slightly tighter and faster low-end. To me, it also has higher resolution and better detailing in the lows than the A18s. The A18s on the other hand sounds more organic to me. The A18s also is more powerful and authoritative in the bass section.
The mids of the A18s sound more warmed up and more analogue than those of the A18t. The A18t has higher levels of transparency in its mid-range. The A18s has a fuller body and more emotions in its musicians and singers. The A18t on the other hand sounds airier and more open. It gives musicians more space and air to move.
The A18t has a more forward top-end, while the A18s sounds a touch calmer. Both have great clarity, but the A18t gives more energy to the treble. Extension on both is superb. The A18t to me seems a bit brighter tuned, while the A18s is a bit softer and more laid back.
In terms of technical performance these two are sublime performers. The A18t does stretch a slightly wider stage, while the A18s goes more into depth. Both have incredible resolution, but the A18t does edge out the A18s in terms of separation. It makes a cleaner cut and just stands above with its surgical precision. The A18s and the A18t both have impressive imaging values and layering. To me, there is no clear winner in that. Both present a vast amount of micro details, but I think the A18t brings them out just a notch clearer.
64 Audio – A12t (12BA; 1,999$)
The A12t is the other 64 Audio monitor that I think is definitely worth comparing the A18s to. Personally, I think the A12t is the CIEM with the best price to performance ratio in 64 Audio’s lineup that I have at home. I can’t speak for the entry level models unfortunately.
Both the A12t and A18s possess a powerful low end, but they do put their attention to different frequency spectrums. The A12t does put sub-bass more in focus, while the A18s gives more light to the mid and upper-bass. The A12t goes deeper with more authority and grunt. It puts more resolution into the lows as well. The A18s is smoother and more natural. It has a bigger body, but the A12t is denser and tighter. The A12t also sounds faster and more energetic in the bass to me.
The mids of both monitors are smooth and organic, but the A18s does create a slightly warmer presentation. The A18s has more clarity in the mids and puts more emotion into the singers. It also produces a richer mid-range, apart from the upper mids. Here it’s the A12t that convinces me more. The A18s sounds more organic and natural in the mid-range to me.
The treble on the A12t is more direct and brighter to me. It’s a treble that can be pushed over the top with the wrong pairing. The A18s is softer and calmer in its treble. The A12t puts more energy into the highest registers to my ears.
The A18s leaves the A12t behind pretty much in all technical aspects. It creates a wider and deeper stage, it renders at a higher rate and its layering is superior. They both have excellent imaging and separation, but the A18s does separate instruments better. It also has nicer texture to me.
qdc – Anole VX (10BA; 2,670$)
The Anole VX is one of the monitors that really surprised me last year. It has won me over with its full and engaging sound and flexibility with its changeable tuning. And I was very curious to hear how the A18s fares up against the qdc flagship.
The Anole VX has a more DD-esque low end. It sounds richer and fuller. The A18s has a more powerful bass, that is faster and tighter. It goes a bit lower than the VX, but the Anole creates a lusher bass. The A18s sounds somewhat rawer than the Anole VX to me.
The mid-range of both monitors are of warmer presentation, but the A18s goes a maybe a bit further than the qdc. The Anole VX sounds softer, richer and mellower. The A18s has higher resolution and clarity. It puts more air around the instruments and gives them more space. Both have a very natural sound, but the Anole VX is sweeter and more emotional.
The highs of the Anole VX sound edgier and harsher in comparison to the A18s. Although it also isn’t close to being sibilant, the Anole VX certainly gives more clarity and energy into the treble. The A18s is softer and a bit more laid back. It still puts good energy and sparkle in the highs though. The Anole just is a tad more direct. The A18s to me extends further into treble than the VX.
In terms of technical performance, both are superb choices. The A18s however creates a bigger venue than the Anole VX. The VX edges out the A18s in terms of layering to me. Both image incredibly well and place instruments extremely carefully in the constructed rooms.
JH Audio – Layla (12BA; 2,725$)
Just before I praised 64 Audio for holding on to their flagship for over three years and counting. It’s only fair to also give the same praise to JH Audio for their Layla, which they introduced in late 2015. It’s still going strong as their flagship.
The Layla, much like the Anole VX, has a BA-bass that could pass as produced by a dynamic driver. Compared to the A18s it’s fuller and richer, while the A18s sounds faster and more powerful. The Layla is smoother down low and covers up tiny bits of information more than the A18s, which puts more resolution into the bass. The A18s has a more precise texture, but the Layla sounds more organic overall in the low-end.
The A18s provides more mid-range clarity than the Layla. The Layla sounds thicker and richer in tone, but does not come with the same air around instruments as the A18s. Vocals sound cleaner and more precise on the A18s, but the Layla gives them a sweeter and more romantic timbre. Overall Layla sounds fuller, darker and lusher compared to the A18s.
Treble is the area that I see most problematic with the Layla. On one side the treble is harsh and hard, but it also doesn’t reach enough volume to provide good dynamic range. The A18s reaches further up in treble with better extension. Highs come out as softer and less fatiguing on the A18s.
In terms of technical performance it’s also the A18s that goes above and beyond. It creates a wider and deeper room, it has higher resolution and better separation. The Layla and A18s both have very good imaging, but to me, it’s easier to pin-point with the A18s. Layering and texture also both go to the A18s for me.
Noble Audio – Khan (1DD/4BA/1Piezo; 2,999$)
The Khan is one of those monitors that creates a very different perception by the crowd. Some people love it, other can’t stand it. I recently had mine re-done into a custom IEM and really like the outcome.
When comparing the Khan and the A18s, there are clear differences between them. The Khan for example puts out a thicker and fuller low-end, while the A18s is faster and more precise. The 64 Audio puts more resolution into the bass. The Khan does extend a bit further into sub-bass and to me it puts more grunt out there as well. The Khan’s bass is a touch more realistic in terms of physical body.
The A18s has a warmer mid-range and sounds fuller here. Its instruments are more organic and natural to my ears. The Khan sounds thinner and lighter. The A18s has better precision and transparency in the mids to me too.
One of the most conflicting areas for the Khan is its treble. It sounds more splashy and harsher than the A18s, which is softer and easier on the ear. The Khan can become even metallic in its timbre, which is something the A18s certainly isn’t. The A18s has better extension into highs, but puts them at a more moderate level. The Khan produces more energy and air.
The A18s definitely outshines the Khan in terms of sound stage dimensions. It goes wider and slightly deeper. It also has better layering and resolution. The A18s portrays finer details with more ease than the Khan as well. Both have very good imaging capabilities, but the A18s separates instruments sharper and puts them on a quieter and darker background to me as wel. Overall I’d say, that the A18s has a cleaner sound than the Khan.
Alright, so 5000 words into the review later. What did we gather? The A18s is a wonderful statement at a natural and mildly warm sound. It packs a punch when needed but delivers everything in high resolution and with superb control. Where the A18s won me over the most, is definitely in its emotional vocals and full bodied sound, while not going over the top. It’s still maintaining excellent air and space, while not losing anything out of focus.
Is the A18s an upgrade to the A18t? No, not to me. The A18t still remains king when it comes to precision and accuracy. The A18s however, builds up on that and goes a slightly different route. In the preview post I called the A18s a blend of the best characteristics of the A18t and A12t. After weeks of additional listening I still stand by that sentiment.
The A18s is a genre master, where everything sounds good. With 64 Audio proprietary technologies you don’t have to worry about output impedances or ear-fatigue. And on top, you can change signatures by swapping the apex modules – two sounds in one. The A18s sounds good out of a smartphone, but goes higher in performance with proper gear. If you have it, use it.
3000 Dollars is a whole freaking lot, but for that money you get a lot in return. Everyone who’s in the market for a summit-fi custom IEM should definitely check out the A18s.