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US-made headphone delivers great bass and style

Hand-crafted in Portland, Ore., the 1964 Ears V8 in-ear headphone is a more affordable alternative to the leading brands' high-end models.

V8 Ears
1964 Ears V8 1964 Ears

Something grabbed me about the sound of the 1964 Ears V8 headphones the very first time I popped them in my ear holes. They just seemed right, so I felt no need to compare them with any of my other custom in-ears. In fact, I listened for two solid weeks without once comparing them to anything else. My job as a reviewer is all about comparing stuff so that's rare for me, and when I finally took off the V8s and switched over to my Jerry Harvey JH-13s ($1,099) there were big differences, but the V8s' sound held up nicely.

Each V8 is custom made by 1964 Ears' highly skilled technicians in its Portland, Ore., facility. There's no mass production techniques, each headphone is literally bespoke (built to order). Think about that: custom-built headphones like this are the audio gear equivalent of buying custom tailored clothes. In either case, the fit is ensured, but with custom headphones they're from ear molds made by your local audiologist. The 1964 Ears Web site lists recommended audiologists, and they typically charge around $50 to $75 to create the molds.

The V8 sports eight balanced armature drivers in each earpiece; there are two high frequency drivers, two midranges and four low frequency drivers for enhanced bass output capabilities. Impedance is rated at 18 ohms.

1964 Ears specializes in making custom in-ears, they don't offer "universal" fit, off-the-shelf models at all. Custom fit produces superior isolation from external noise, up to 26 decibels, so you can turn down your music and listen at a safer volume than you would with universal fit headphones. Seventy percent of 1964 Ears' customers are musicians, and use their headphones as stage monitors when they're playing. The other 30 percent are audiophiles (like me) who just like great sound. The V8 comes with your choice of a 48 or 60 inch long user-replaceable braided cable, so when the cable breaks as they eventually all do you can buy a new cable for $32. So even if you're rough on cables you'll never have to return the V8 for service for a broken cable.

The Jerry Harvey JH13 headphone is more see-through transparent than the V8, but the V8 sounds more dynamically alive, and the deeper, more powerful bass is hard to miss. The V8 slightly softens detail relative to what I get from the JH13, but you literally won't know what you're missing, unless you also own the JH13.

Listening at home, I preferred the 1964 Ears V6 Stage ($699) over the V8, because the V6 Stage sounded more accurate. Out in the streets, NYC subway or any noisy environment the V8's fuller bass sound worked better. If you like a big bassy sound go for the V8, if you prefer accuracy the V6 Stage would be a better choice.

I listened to the V8 mostly with my iPod Classic, but when I used the Classic with my Centrance Hi-Fi M8 digital converter/headphone amplifier, the sound went to the next level. Biggest changes were dynamics/clarity, the music was even more alive, and bass definition firmed up. It's an expensive headphone so I would expect that some V8 owners will step up to high-end DACs and amps.

The V8 is currently available for an introductory price of $799, the company's custom-fit V2 is their most affordable model, it's $399. The V8 is less expensive than Jerry Harvey Audio's or Ultimate Ears' similarly equipped, eight balanced armature models. 1964 Ears offers a 30-day comfort and fit guarantee that allows customers to send the headphones back to the factory to make adjustments for no charge, and there's a 2-year limited warranty on the headphones.