Back in February when I got my sample, it didn’t come with retail packaging. It simply arrived in 64 Audio’s touring case together with a hand full of ear-tips.
64 Audio decided to slightly change the packaging of the Nio compared to their other universal IEMs. Nio now comes with 64’s new round leather case instead of the hard plastic one we have seen in previous reviews. Customers will also get a round 64 Audio sticker, three pairs of silicone ear-tips as well as three more foam tips. There’s also a shirt clip and a product manual in the package.
You will also get three apex modules. The m15 came pre-installed in my Nio, while the m20 rested securely in the hard plastic case. With the Nio 64 Audio also supplied their new mX module, which lowers isolation to -10dB. I did not get this one when my sample arrived. It’s nice to see that 64 Audio doesn’t limit the choice to one of them and gives their customers three sounds in one IEM.
[EDIT]: Please note, the retail version of the Nio apparently has a more forward bass and sub-bass section than the supplied demo unit.
The most important trait of an IEM of course is its sound. At the price the Nio comes in, we of course expect a lot. We have seen many hybrids launched in the recent years. Even 64 Audio’s top of the line models are DD/BA hybrids, although in an unusual tube-less design. Most hybrids I have listened to come with a strong bass and a more or less V-shaped signature.
For this section I have mostly used the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch as main DAP, but I also used the smaller PAW 6000 and the Plenue L. DAC/amp wise I’ve stayed with Chord’s Hugo2 and Mojo as well as the Woo Audio WA11. The following impressions are based on the m15 module. A description of the m20 can be found at the end of this chapter. As I did not receive the mX with my Nio, I can’t offer a description of its characteristics.
The Nio’s sound can be summarized as warm with good vocal clarity and soft treble. It features good resolution and an overall engaging tone.
Nio has a smooth and airy low end, that comes with a full body. Bass has the typical dynamic driver texture to it, that is incredibly hard to match by any BA I have heard to date. The Nio reaches deep, but does so with little grunt and thunder. It reaches sub-bass with good definition, but to me there is a clear focus on the higher region lows. The Nio puts out a wonderfully natural low-end, which gives drums, bass and other lower pitched instruments a realistic sound.
I wouldn’t classify the Nio as a bass-head’s IEM. It has high quality lows, but it doesn’t show the quantity needed to be put into that segment. Even though Nio does have a more prominently placed mid- and upper-bass as well as lower mid-range, it still creates a more or less well balanced signature. People who desire punch and impact, might not be overly satisfied with the Nio. If you seek speed and a knock-out punch, you might find the Nio lacking. Nio is not about that in my opinion. It gives you a well controlled, but softer bass than hybrids like the Empire Ears Valkyrie or Legend X. At the same time, the Nio is also far more balanced than those two.
In the last weeks I’ve been listening to Kraftwerk a lot. With Florian Schneider the music industry recently lost a legend. Kraftwerk is a group that has had big influence on me and my musical taste. A song I like to use for evaluations is their track The Robots. It was the A12t that showed me that there are two separate bass lines playing in parallel. The Nio separates the mid and sub-bass lines quite well, but doesn’t show the differences as clearly as the A12t. On The Model the bass line comes out with good body and weight, but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the track.
Mids sound smooth and organic. There is a certain warmth in the entire mid-range that gives instruments and singers good richness and a natural physique. Instruments have good meat on their bones. They don’t sound too thin or too thick, although there seems to be a tendency more towards a fuller sound.
Male vocals seem to be one of Nio’s strong suit. Deep singers appear with a physical and dense sound. Vocals in the likes of Leonard Cohen or Frank Zappa have very nice body and flesh, they sound strong and bold, which gives their unmistakable sound even more character in my opinion. Now, with female vocals the Nio doesn’t provide the same strength. They seem to be colored more towards a darker tune. Let’s take Björk for example. She has the most beautiful voice in my opinion. You can of course disagree. In her song Notget she comes across as more laid back and misses some vocal clarity in my opinion.
The mid-range overall has a richer tonality, which makes the Nio sound more on the wet side of things. Which is absolutely to my liking, as I favor a rich and sweet timbre over anything dry. The Nio has good resolution and rendering. It creates a fairly wide staging, but keeps musicians closer to you. The background is dark, but not black as there is some warm air surrounding instruments.
The Nio separates instruments well, but in my opinion it could do with a sharper cut between them, as sometimes musicians sound a bit woven into each other. An area where the Nio is absolutely excellent is stereo separation. It centers the scene perfectly and keeps very good control over it. Nio places the instruments carefully in the room it creates, which gives it great imaging values and you the ability to precisely tell where the musicians are standing.
Treble on the Nio is smoother and more on the laid-back side. It doesn’t push high volumes in the highs, but still provides enough air to give the mid-range enough open space to not sound congested. Higher pitched instruments like violins and pianos sound full and rich. A good example here would be the unplugged live version of Placebo’s Meds. It takes a bit for the violins to get out in this track, but when they do, they do with a sweet and smooth sound. The Nio’s extension into highs is good, but at the same time I’ve heard 64 Audio’s tia drivers reach further as well.
Nio doesn’t produce a hard edged or shrill treble. It provides good clarity, but does it with manners. The Nio won’t pierce your ears. It’s a treble that is more on the safer tuning side.
When swapping the M15 for the M20 module, the Nio gets a narrower stage. Bass becomes gets more authority and drive. It kicks harder and gives the Nio a more bass focused sound overall. Treble gets pushed back a bit more, which results in a darker tone. Lows sound more physical and stronger. Mids sound more open with the M15.
I prefer the M15 loaded sound over the M20 myself.
The Nio’s ability to scale with higher end sources is very apparent in my opinion. Although the Nio sounds very nice with my OnePlus 5t, it sounds noticeably better with high end sources like the PAW Gold Touch or the Hugo2.
With LID 64 Audio manages to keep the key-signature of the Nio alive with any source, but of course the quality and sound of the connected source can alter the results. One of the most obvious changes to me when going up the ladder is how well the Nio separates instruments. It is in its resolution and rendering qualities. The Nio sounds very good out of simple gear like my phone, but it can sound quite a bit nicer with DAPs.
Even though there are clear steps up in the performance, there are other monitors out there that show bigger leaps between gear. When I hooked up the Nio to my Broadway S or FA-10 amplifiers, it didn’t gain much with the higher power.
More about 64 Audio’s new Nio IEM on page three.