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1964 Ears custom in-ear headphones beat their competition on price

1964 Ears offers a wide range of options for its headphones, custom-molded to your ears.

1964 Ears 1964-V6 headphones, with custom art faceplates Steve Guttenberg/CNET

1964 Ears makes custom-molded, in-ear headphones, just like Ultimate Ears, JH Audio, and Westone, but 1964 Ears is a relative newcomer. It has to try harder than the more established brands, so 1964 Ears offers a wider array of customizable features and service options than the others. Prices start a little lower, at $350 for the 1964-D, and $650 for the top-of-the-line model I'm reviewing here today, the 1964-V6. That's significantly less expensive than the established brands' flagships.

1964 Ears can also "remold" your old universal-fit balanced-armature headphones, like a Shure or Etymotic pair, and make them into custom-molded-to-your-ears headphones for $250. 1964 Ears will also remold older custom-molded in-ear headphones, so you could buy someone's older Ultimate Ears or Westone headphones, and have them remolded to fit your ears. I don't know of another company that offers that service.

Manufacturing in-ear headphones is a labor-intensive process, and 1964 Ears builds all of its headphones in Portland, Ore. The company has an excellent video that takes the mystery out of the process. Watch it and you'll see that few consumer products priced like in-ear headphones are built with this much attention to detail. Since they're made to order, many custom features are available, including different colors for the earpieces, and wood, metal, or carbon-fiber end caps. You can even supply your own artwork; my 1964-V6s have a snazzy black-and-white checkerboard pattern. 1964 Ears also offers soft plastic ear canal fittings that improve comfort over the standard hard acrylic earpieces. Replacement cables sell for $32.

1964 Ears 1964-V6 in a standard finish 1964 Ears

The 1964-V6 is a "three-way" design with six balanced-armature drivers (dual bass, dual midrange, and dual treble). The headphone comes with your choice of a 50- or 64-inch detachable cable and two carrying cases. Before you buy custom-molded in-ear headphones you need to first visit a local audiologist to have "impressions" of your ear canals made, which are then used to build your headphones. Most audiologists charge from $75 to $100 to make the molds, but you can't beat custom in-ears for fit and isolation from external noise.

In terms of sound, the V6 is certainly on par with the best Ultimate Ears, Jerry Harvey, and Westone custom-molded in-ears. The tonal balance is nice and smooth, bass power and detail are excellent, and the treble is crisp. I spent a few weeks using the 1964-V6s instead of my more expensive customs, and thoroughly enjoyed them.

To gain more perspective on the sound I compared the V6 earphones with the $400 Logitech UE 900 universal-fit headphones. I like the UE 900s a lot, and they use similar balanced armature drivers to the V6 model's, but the UE 900 earphones aren't custom-molded. So the fit is less secure and they don't block outside noise as well as the V6s do. Sonically, the V6 earphones were substantially more detailed and clear. I didn't have to switch back and forth too many times; the V6s resolved details in the mixes better, so I could more clearly hear exactly how much reverb was used on each instrument in the mix. The V6 earphones had superior dynamic punch, while the UE 900s seemed more laid-back by comparison.

The 1964-V6 earphones are really good, but the latest $1,099 Jerry Harvey JH13 customs are better. Again it's a matter of clarity, and the JH13s produced a bigger and more spacious stereo image. Percussion instruments cut through better, cymbals shimmered more, bass was richer, and vocals had more body. Still, the 1964-V6 earphones weren't embarrassed by the almost-twice-as-expensive JH Audio JH13 pair. That's impressive.