WAVAYA Octa: a porcelain dream

Pros: Superlative upper mids, superlative treble, cymbals and violins are voiced wonderfully, drum timbre, excellent instrument separation, good stage depth, nice looks, well-controlled bass with good extension, beautiful leather case, Linum SuperBaX cable has great sound and fantastic ergonomics, less wax build-up with porcelain

Cons: touch of warmth can lean a bit away from neutral, case not big enough for most aftermarket cables, case not a bombproof piece of tour kit

List Price: $1590 (€1590)

Product Website: WAVAYA Octa

WAVAYA Octa

Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.

Introduction

My blogmate, Jackpot77 was contacted by WAVAYA asking if he’d like to do a review of their gear, and kindly introduced me to the company also. I’m glad he did, because I’m a total geek for innovation, and WAVAYA is all about doing stuff that nobody else has done. Talking to the head honcho of WAVAYA, Pasquale, painted a portrait of a man steered by his own compass, but flexible to productive detours from the longitudinal.

As far as I know, WAVAYA is the only company offering porcelain custom shells and the first company offering dual electrostatic (total of 4 drivers) super tweeters (from Sonion) for exceptional air and precision in the treble. They also use tubeless construction, which provides more control over resonance and allows the lowest lows and highest highs to be conveyed with greater magnitude. They’ve got a jewelry series that is embellished with crystals from Swarovski™.  They don’t have a faceplate, because that doesn’t work with porcelain, they have a top more like the dome of a sarcophagus—no mummies inside, I promise. They will also be debuting signature series IEMs that are tuned for and by specific performing artists that will likely be revealing in a number of surprising ways. These WAVAYA cats are different.

They decided to pour their personal capital into the business, no loans, all personal skin in the game. Their goal was more to pursue an audio business built primarily for musicians, and their first two offerings, the Tria and the Quadra (see Jackpot77’s review here) were designed for stage and studio musicians who generally want a vibrant in-ear monitor when they are playing. However, these same musicians may want something different when they are listening for pleasure, something more refined and subdued, something that doesn’t have the levels set to 11. The Tria Comfort and the Exa (both now discontinued) moved the sound in this direction and the electrostatic/balanced armature hybrid Penta and Octa have moved further into audiophile territory. I feel privileged to take these steps into the unknown.

Producing porcelain IEMs is a more involved process than producing acrylic IEMs. Along my path to receiving my units I was sent pictures documenting what step everything was at, but the video below shows all that better than the pictures I received. The amount of work going into each pair justifies premium pricing. The Octa take a full day to build, that’s a lot of work. I’ve lifted the video from their website, but the website is worth looking at to see further details about the steps. Producing these is a lot more involved with a lot more chance of loss and need to redo the process, so these are very reasonably priced; a bit of a bargain actually.

One final thing to note, as far as I know the Octa were the first in-ear monitor to use 4 electrostatic tweeters about a year ago—Sonion hadn’t even developed a quad tweeter set yet. Others have done it since and are claiming they were first—I think they are probably wrong.

Usability: Form & Function

Unboxing

The WAVAYA unboxing experience is pretty good. They come in a red, light card box sealed with a metallised WAVAYA sticker. Inside the box there is a soft foam top sheet with a polystyrene inner below and another soft foam sheet on the bottom completing the foam sandwich. The soft foam was off-white, while the polystyrene is of course white. I think they could step this up a level by getting black foam for both parts and potentially using a similar density foam throughout. It’s good, secure packaging with a good internal organisation for content, but it could look and feel more premium. I’ve been told they’ll be updating the packaging and including a t-shirt instead of the pins—I support this and hope to advise on the new packaging.

Inside the box are a plethora of business cards, buttons, and other merchandise. There’s even a lapel pin. Personally, I didn’t find all of these necessary, and I think that most users would be unlikely to use them. I’d invest the money that goes into these items into a nicer foam. I did very much like the ‘Wait it’s porcelain’ card, which gives instructions on how to care for the IEMs. I found this very helpful. There is also a card containing a pair of magnets that can be applied to the leather case to affix it to a microphone stand. At their heart, WAVAYA IEMs are designed for live musicians, so this nod is a good one. There is also a branded polishing cloth, which is pretty much par for the course on custom or high-end IEMs (becoming common in mid-tier $150+ IEMs too).

There is an unique addition in the box, an accessory in a dedicated compartment at the bottom with it’s own plastic case: a set of ear cleaning tools. I found their presence a bit odd, though I did try them. A word of caution, audiologists don’t generally recommend sticking anything inside your ear beyond the outer ear as the risk of permanent damage to hearing isn’t worth getting at a hardened piece of wax near your eardrum. Ears are generally designed to be self-cleaning, but if you have excess wax or hardened wax using an ear-dropper with olive oil a couple times a day should help loosen up wax build-up. Some folks use diluted hydrogen peroxide, but while this will clear wax, it can also cause irritation and a defensive mechanism that will increase wax build-up. Treat your ears gently, they are a marvel of biology.

At the centre of the box is the main event—right where it should be. The IEMs are held within a leather calf-skin case; available in red or black, personalised or not; that is held within a black WAVAYA logo box. Also inside the box is an insert that provides information about the warranty, fitting guarantees, and the special leather box.

The leather box is made from Florentine calf-skin leather and will naturally absorb moisture off your IEMs, which is good. Moisture isn’t good for IEMs, and customs need more protection against moisture. The leather box has a decidedly premium feel and the branding of individual units is clear with a good logo for the Octa. The double box is designed to be affixed, open and pointing upward, to a microphone stand (using the included magnetic stickers), which is a thoughtful piece of design for musicians. Inside the leather box is a leather button strap designed to wrap the IEM cable around and place an IEM on each side of the wrap. The wrap is absolutely necessary because it prevents the porcelain IEMs from moving around inside the box, which should mitigate the risk of the porcelain colliding with equally hard objects and becoming damaged. Inside that wrap there is also a cleaning tool. I’ve used the cleaning tool, but find that my wax build-up has decreased with the porcelain IEMs, so I don’t need it after every time wearing them.

I think some audiophiles will feel cautious about using the calf-skin leather case for a few reasons: it doesn’t have any padding, it isn’t watertight (it should be fairly water resistant), and only the smallest of aftermarket cables fit inside the box using the wrap—not using the wrap would almost certainly lead to cracked porcelain IEMs, don’t do it. If you want to change your cable, there is a good chance that a standard size upgrade cable won’t fit in the leather case—I tested. With regards to the first concern, when I shake the leather case with the IEMs inside, they don’t really move. The double thickness of the leather will also provide some cushion for the little bit of movement that happens. It’s objects in motion that break, the case and strap do effectively limit motion. Unless you throw the case against a wall, it’ll probably be fine. Don’t do a Randy Johnson imitation with the case! With regards to waterproofing, this case won’t prevent water getting in if it’s submerged, it will limit ingress, but it won’t prevent it.

For those worried about submersion or their ability to practice throwing fastballs with their expensive IEMs, a nearly indestructible padded box like a Pelican 1010 with pick and pluck foam or a box similar to the Empire Ears Aegis case with individual padded foam compartments for each earpiece might be a good option to pick up aftermarket.

 

Pelican 1010 (£21.14) Pick and pluck foam (£5.45)
1010-black-clear
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img_20170813_17034802020-20watermark_zpsl4rezisx

 

Other companies sometimes use a metal puck style case, but the only way a puck style case would work is if WAVAYA built a custom insert to wrap a cable and place the IEMs in padding in the centre. I think that this would actually be the best option, as the case would be tough, flexible to a variety of cables and easy to transport with confidence. You’ll probably always have to take it out and have it open when travelling by air, but it is a worthy price to pay for a really solid case. It wouldn’t affix to a microphone stand.

Cable choice

When I placed my ‘order’ for the Octa, choosing 2-pin meant getting a Plastics One cable and a discount, or WAVAYA making a special order to Estron to get a 2-pin SuperBaX cable. After I had a listen to the Plastics One and talked with Pasquale, WAVAYA got a deal with Estron to supply the SuperBaX cable in 2-pin as well as the default T2 setup (that tells you all you need to know about the Plastics One cable). Now you will always get an awesome cable with the Octa. They may even stock the balanced version of the Linum SuperBaX soon for no additional cost on the Octa. Lower priced models will come default with the T2 Linum BaX cable, but will come with the Plastics One if you want 2-pin (Estron doesn’t make a 2-pin BaX cable). I recommend getting the T2 Linum BaX on lower models than the Octa. Because of the design of the Florentine leather box, the IEMs need to ship with a cable for security, so I’m really glad that the default is that they come with a good cable.

Pasquale finds the T2 connector to be superior to 2-pin and MMCX connectors for touring musician use, which is their main audience. It is what Ultimate Ears’ new IPX system is based on, and is compatible with the IPX system, because Estron, who make the T2 connector, co-developed the IPX system. The T2 is water resistant, has a strong connection, and should hold up well if treated decently. The Linum cables are known for having high tensile strength, which means that they aren’t likely to break easily inside the wire. However, the wire breaking is usually because of the housing breaking and exposing the wire, not from any pulling force on the wire, and I’m not convinced that any cable housing without an extra layer (for example, pre-formed heatshrink at the ears) will hold up to much abuse at the connection to the earpiece. The SuperBaX doesn’t have pre-formed heatshrink, but they do feel well-made.

There are reasons for audiophiles to go for 2-pin cables. They may already have some cables they like. They may wish to get a balanced cable and options are much more flexible than with a T2 connector on which direction you can go with a cable. After discussion with Pasquale, he sent a Linum G2 SuperBaX and made sure everyone else could get one also. I actually really like the sound and the impeccable ergonomics of the SuperBaX.

I’ve tried the Octa with a variety of cables (even Plastics One, not worth mentioning in detail here).

  • Double Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3 (eight braid) ($790) The treble sounded excellent with this pairing but the bass came out sounding a bit anaemic. For tracks that rely on treble and mids to convey most of the feeling, this is fine, but the bass equation wasn’t quite right for me. The soundstage was improved, but the cost for a little bit more width was too high. Ergonomically, the eight braid is never going to be the most ergonomic, but as I said in my DHC Symbiote review, the quad braid likely will feel fine, give almost identical sonic performance and cost half the amount. This was never going to fit in the case.
  • Effect Audio Ares II+ ($219.90) The Ares II+ makes the sound a bit richer and increases bass quantity a bit. I really liked the pairing. You still get the amazing treble off the electrostatic tweeters, but you don’t lose bass like on the DHC Symbiote. The price is also a good match for the discount for not going SuperBaX. Ergonomically, the Ares II+ has almost the same ergonomics as the DHC Symbiote, and so will also clearly never fit in the leather case.
  • Cross Lambda Mikumo 2 ($65) This is a good basic copper cable with Litz wire (4-braid, about 28 AWG per wire) and a balanced sound signature. The Mikumo II has better bass, both by volume and by definition than the stock Plastics One cable. Mids are also clearer and fuller and treble performance is more nuanced. It is less ergonomic than the SuperBaX and doesn’t fit in the leather case. I was sent this model by Cross Lambda, but have never reviewed it because as far as I can see it was discontinued within a couple months of my receiving it. It is a good stand-in for a basic copper cable that can generally be had for somewhere in the vicinity of $100 (their new version, the New Mikumo Dragon is about $65). It’s a good basic cable that would benefit from a little bit softer and less springy housing. It doesn’t fit in the leather case. It is a pretty standard size cable, which means that standard size cables will rarely fit the leather box case.
  • Linum G2 SuperBaX (included) The cable is very balanced. It has a good amount of bass while not losing texture. It has good extension on both ends of the sound spectrum. It has a good soundstage. It is a lot better than the Plastics One. It has fantastic ergonomics because of the lightness and softness of the cable and it fits in the swish leather case that comes with the IEMs. It’s probably the best choice for most people. There might be some wait for the 2-pin version as it may have to be ordered from Estron. If you live in a sweaty environment and need the tougher connection of the T2, this is the standard option. A balanced option is available from Estron, but is not sold by WAVAYA, which is understandable. T2 cables are compatible with Ultimate Ears, but I’m not sure if IPX (Ultimate Ears) cables are compatible with T2 fixtures.

Aesthetics & Build

The WAVAYA Octa I picked out are the mother of pearl lustre finish. It is a nice white rainbow pearlescent effect. Lustre finishes are free on the Octa, but $100 (€100) on other models. When the light catches these right, they are stunning—difficult to photograph, but stunning. They look even better in person than the photos here. Because of how the glaze is applied no two WAVAYA will look exactly the same. Each is a unique artisanal piece. I have now seen several WAVAYA glazes in person, and I think that my favourite is the finish on the WAVAYA Quadra reviewed by Jackpot77 and my second favourite is the mother of pearl effect. The all white Tria Live that I’ll be reviewing later remind me of a dainty teacup and are also quite nice. I recommend having a conversation with the company on what finishes turn out the best of the finishes that you like and go with their recommendation.

Another aspect of the WAVAYA IEMs is that they have tubeless outlets. Instead of a structure defined by tubes snaking around the inside of the IEM they built a structure to guide the sound which they say gives better fidelity and sound magnitude while being more durable.

Ergonomics

Some research before they arrived

I asked Pasquale, the leader of the porcelain posse why the heck I would want to put porcelain in my ear. I mean—won’t it shatter and send little splinters into my temporal lobe to scramble up my mind ala Bob Dylan in Alabama? I didn’t really ask that—I lied to you there. I used to ask the stupid questions that people didn’t want to ask in classrooms while I was growing up because the questions aren’t actually stupid and people need to know this stuff but may be too embarrassed or shy to ask. When I thought about porcelain, I imagined that it was really a hard ceramic with good thermal properties. The most bomb-proof IEMs are made of zirconium ceramic, ceramic doesn’t mean brittle. One of my favourite countries to visit is Turkey, and in the palace and many of the mosques there are the famously decorated Iznik tiles, but what most folks don’t know when looking at them is the tiles are excellent at retaining and reflecting heat, so they are actually quite good insulation.

the-rustem-pasha-mosque-izzet-keribar
Rüstem Paşa Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

The properties of ceramics could be quite different than acrylic customs, so I asked Pasquale to help me define these properties. The testimony on the website that once you go porcelain plastic will never do wasn’t quite specific enough for me.

Porcelain Acrylic
Initially 3D-printed from an ear impression Can be hand-poured, 3D printed, or a combination
Must be glazed and fired multiple times at 1200⁰C to harden the structure of the ceramic and create a pretty finish Require UV curing to set and polishing to finish
Holes must be drilled before firing and cannot be redone if mistakes are made Holes can be drilled after or before curing and can be corrected if mistakes are made
Hypoallergenic Potential for contact dermatitis and allergic reaction (1% prevalence in dental studies, acrylics used in dentistry are similar to those used in custom IEMs, and similar in an international study on methacrylic allergy)
Adapts to your body temperature Less flexible to body temperature (i.e. cause sweating and potential fluid in ears)
Less wax build-up (I have basically none with these) More wax build-up
One shot at fit, if fit is wrong the shell must be remade IEMs sent back for poor fit can be sanded and refinished

So basically, acrylics are easier to work with and less expensive to work with, but have differences, may be more comfortable in the ear and can cause contact dermatitis or allergic reactions (in the 1% to 1.5% of people who have an acrylic allergy)—a recent USA study found 2.6% of people undergoing patch tests to be allergic to hydroxyethyl methacrylate—that was a bigger study than the others, but these were people who knew they were allergic to something, so detection rate of allergens would be expected to be higher than the general public.

However, most people haven’t regularly exposed themselves to acrylic, and most people won’t be wearing and sweating in their in-ears for 8 hours in a day, so there may be higher rates of diagnosis of allergy or contact dermatitis in people who regularly use acrylic in-ears in heat, such as musicians and folks living in hot climates. This would mean that more custom IEM users would be expected to have allergic reactions or contact dermatitis while using acrylic in ears. Essentially rates are unknown for contact dermatitis, and methacrylic allergy is rare but not hugely rare; i.e. porcelain is worth trying.

With regard to sweating and wax, I have noticed that my two custom acrylic in-ears do have a tendency to make my ear canals sweat a little bit and my ears are more prone to wax build-up with customs than with other in-ears. This could be attributable to depth of insertion rather than material of insertion.

Upon arrival

It is not uncommon for custom in-ears, which are made from a direct mould of your ear, to not fit perfectly the first time. My Octa was uncomfortable in one ear and perfect in the other on first arrival and did need a refit. This isn’t a problem unique to WAVAYA—Twister6 had an IEM that needed refitting from a much bigger company. WAVAYA promptly took care of a second set from the same impressions with a more comfort oriented fit, and they arrived with perfect fit within a couple weeks. I was very pleased with the service I received. If you want to have a check on whether your impressions are fit for purpose, WAVAYA does have an online impression checker, which is an innovative feature that should help avoid refits. WAVAYA also offers VIP Service for $199 (€199) that includes the following: pick-up of impressions at your door, fast-track preparation and shipping of plastic shells to test fit (repeated until the right fit is achieved), fast track production of in-ears within maximum of 30 days or whole VIP fee is refunded, priority shipping, and a dedicated customer service representative.

This said, the material does take some getting used to as it is harder than acrylic. My ears are very sensitive—my nerves are sensitive in general, which probably helps my hearing response. I think my ears are more sensitive than average, honestly. Porcelain is harder and heavier than acrylic, which has meant that I note it in my outer and inner ear more under the same fit as an acrylic pair. This awareness of the IEMs does fade over time, and they are less noticeable after nearly a month of daily use, but I don’t think they will become invisible to my senses and that is okay. They are comfortable for me for goodly length listening sessions. I think this will be an experience that varies from person to person.

With regards to ear sweat and wax build-up. I haven’t noticed any difference in ear sweat levels, but I am producing less wax during insertion. The porcelain has been coming out basically clean (can’t stop all wax) for me at each insertion, which is not what I observe with my acrylic customs. I haven’t tested these under extremely sweaty situations, but I anticipate them doing well.

Audio quality

The WAVAYA Octa gives a balanced frequency response with a touch of warmth in the lower mids, silky yet soaring female vocals and refined treble that extends for miles. Bass drops low and drum impacts are palpable in a way uncommon with balanced armatures. You don’t get the rumbling extension of a dynamic driver’s sub-bass rendering, but the balanced armature extends as deep with good quality and natural timbre. Soundstage has good width with nice depth and less pronounced height but has excellent instrument separation and resolution. These have impeccable timing with waves of speed in reserve. Technical performance on these punches above their price-tag. I think these will routinely compete with more expensive IEMs.

Matchability

Source

I didn’t experience hiss on any of the sources that I tried the WAVAYA Octa with.

QP2R & SOUNDAWARE M2Pro

The gets enough power from both units with the same tone. On the QP2R, I went for low gain (high bias, volume 94), but to get the volume matched on the Soundaware M2Pro the gain setting jumped to high gain with a volume setting of 51. The Soundaware M2Pro has a touch of edge in the mids, while the QP2R is a little more supple. Both resolve space well with the Octa.

The QP2R and M2Pro are clearer, with less distortion on Wilco – Handshake Drugs (16/44), than the HiBy R3, with this especially noticeable in the bass and the kick drum when they get high amplitude in the track.

HiBy R3

The HiBy R3 is a little thinner in the mids and treble than the QP2R or SOUNDAWARE M2Pro. On Gordon Gano’s vocals in Violent Femmes – American Music (16/44), Gordon gets a little more nasal tone. Bass on the R3 is a little thicker, but at the cost of some definition.

LG V30

The LG V30 does well, but isn’t as dynamic sounding as the QP2R or M2Pro. I’d happily listen, as it still sounds good with nice depth to the listen. The LG V30 sounds a touch soft through the mids and doesn’t have the same air and extension in the treble. Bass still grooves along nicely, though.

Comparisons

All comparisons were made using the Questyle QP2R in high bias. Volume matching was done using white noise and an SPL meter. Where perceived volume and measured volume did not match multiple remeasurements were made and averaged to address the affect of position on measurement.

Headphone Cable SE/Balanced Gain Volume ~SPL
WAVAYA Octa Linum G2 SuperBaX SE Low 94 78.3
WAVAYA Octa Effect Audio Ares II+ Balanced Low 79 78.3
Stealth Sonics U9 Effect Audio Ares II+ Balanced Low 84 78.3
UERR Stock SE Medium 87 78.3
Unique Melody Mason v3 Stock Silver 3.5mm with UE Buffer Jack SE High 90 78.4

WAVAYA Octa ($1590) vs. UERR ($999)

The Octa has nice chunky bass with good texture on Wilco – Handshake Drugs (16/44) and when that kick drum comes in it kicks like a mule. You can actually feel the kick drum, which is some nice amplitude. Jeff Tweedy’s vocals are dead to rights right on. The maracas shaking like a pill dispenser through the whole track are at just the right depth. It’s a really nice presentation. Bass is a little less textured on the UERR and the kick drum doesn’t bash your face. I prefer the face-bashing of the Octa. The Octa has a touch more width to the piano imaging.

On 9Bach – Llyn Du (24-88) The Octa has great presentation of percussion. When sticks snap, when cymbals shimmer, when electronic percussion ticks rapidly, it just gets it right. Female vocals are universally delightful on the Octa, silky yet detailed, emotive but never strident. It’s no different with Lisa Jen Brown’s sung Welsh. When the menacing bass drops in, it certainly carries the menace it needs to in good balance with all the other elements. There are subtle ticks far back in the stage that come out perfectly resolved. The UERR is bit more forward and breathy on the vocals but without the silken quality. Bass also comes across with good texture. Percussion feels lighter with less body. While the vocals are more forward, they don’t sound quite as nice. Both sets do really nicely on this. The Octa sounds like it has a touch more depth to the stage, but I think the UERR gets the advantage in stage height.

The presentation is clean and clear while having some emotive grunt on the guitar and nice slam on the drums on Tool – Forty Six & 2 (16/44) with the WAVAYA Octa. Drums have a roundness and impact to them that makes it feel like the real thing. I think that WAVAYA has underestimated how well these perform with drums among their line up. These might not punch you in the face with impact, but the impact is nonetheless palpable and the quality is excellent. The stage width is quite good and depth is also good but not exceptional. Instrument separation is exceptional. Timbre of instruments just feels right. When the machine gunning drums come in at about 4:45 the transients have good attack and decay, nothing lingers too long and everything arrives on time. The rising shimmer of the cymbal in the background is deliciously refined on the Octa. Drums with the UERR don’t have the same feel or impact. The decay is a touch fast, comparatively which removes some of the roundness of the drum feel. The shadow of the shimmer in the intro is there, but it doesn’t have the same kind of texture to it, it feels partial. Stage width is less. As with 9Bach, the stage on the UERR has a little more height. The WAVAYA Octa retains more feel across the instrument spectrum when there are intentionally overlapped discordant harmonies (bass growl plus crashing cymbal usually), it gets more visceral feel while maintaining superior clarity. Maynard’s voice sounds excellent on both, but has a little bit of sweetness mixed in with the power on the Octa. When comparing bass, the Octa has a more full-throated growl on bass guitar and excellent extension. I do wonder if the newer BaX equipped UERRs (I’ve got the old 2-pin style) will get some of the characteristics the SuperBaX seems to impart on the bass of the Octa.

Jon Anderson’s voice comes across as if carried by angel wings on King Crimson – Lizard (16/44, Steven Wilson Remaster) on the Octa. The soundstage is laid out almost like a theatrical presentation. Jon Anderson’s soliloquy leading us in the beginning from far stage right with the piano diagonal to the rear of stage left and somehow miniature in scale in the intro. When loudness explodes on the stage, Jon comes to the middle of the stage and the individual instruments arranged in space or avoiding a defined space except above (the soaring cellos). The Octa has a way of making everything sound real. Bass is a touch forward of neutral on the Octa, but has good quality and depth and doesn’t sound coloured, it’s just a touch elevated.  From oboe to clarinet, to marching drum, to piano, the flourishes of each instrument are refined and separated in space. The electrostatic tweeters work some magic here. I don’t know if it takes four to do it, but four are certainly doing it. Jon Anderson’s voice on the UERR has a touch more lower mids influence, giving a warmer character while strangely also not having as much body. Piano is more forward on the UERR, but bass is further back and not as textured. The Octa just gives me more feel and ambiance than I get from the UERR. At a $1590 base price, this is excellent value.

WAVAYA Octa ($1590) vs. Stealth Sonics U9 ($1099)

For my comparison with the WAVAYA Octa I had each headphone on the same cable, the Effect Audio Ares II+. When I did initial volume matches, I got the same volume for both headphones on the Effect Audio Ares II+. Listening backed up this measurement, though the U9 always sounds a little louder, which is probably due to having less stage depth and more mids emphasis than the Octa—treble tends to eat up some SPL without being as audible. It could easily be measurement error, too. The nozzle angle is difficult for getting good consistent measurements on the U9 and customs always have difficulties, which is why I often measure them multiple times. Because of the volume measurement being the same, I adjusted sound levels as I wished but just made sure they were the same for each, which is a nice benefit. The effect of the Ares II+ was to improve the bass volume and definition on the WAVAYA Octa while boosting clarity a bit, so I expect a similar effect on the U9.

The violins are deliciously rendered on Regina Spektor – Field Below (16/44) and Regina’s voice sounds nice, but a bit forward of neutral on the U9. Piano has great body and texture on the U9 but can be a bit hard and forward. A little more restraint would be good here. It’s overall a very solid performance, especially at $1099. There is a touch of shoutyness to Regina’s voice on the U9. Piano is more delicate and refined on the Octa with just the right amount of reverb. Regina’s voice is still forward but doesn’t get as shouty (still some shouty, probably just track mastering). There is more ambiance to Regina’s voice with the more texture extending out into her overtones and more nuance in the vocals. The refinement of the Octa is superior on Regina’s vocals, giving a more lifelike presentation. The stage on the Octa has more depth and instruments have a more natural presentation in space with better separation than the U9.

Yes – Sound Chaser (24-96, Steven Wilson remaster) is a speed test track for me. The U9 keep up with good impact. All the little treble tings, cymbal shimmers and percussive impacts are rendered very nicely. The soundscape is busy, but individual instruments can be picked out, with a little effort in their own space. Stage depth is not as good as the WAVAYA Octa, but it is still good. Instrument separation is really excellent on the Octa, with different elements of treble finding what feels like their true place and character in the right layer more consistently. Individual vocalists are easier to pick out on the Octa. Tone on drums and bass is accurate on the Octa, but impact is better on the U9 due to having a dynamic driver built in. If the Octa was using a dynamic driver here instead a balanced armature for the lows I think it would give the same kind of effect—assuming the right dynamic driver were used.

Outkast – Sorry Ms. Jackson (16/44) is a surprisingly layered and textured track. The treble on the WAVAYA Octa is superlative with layering, definition, and a sound that sounds ‘just right.’ There is a fundamental correctness to the treble presentation. It pulls out every little detail while still having a good decay and tonal accuracy. The treble just sounds real. On this track the WAVAYA exhibits a bit extra snap in the 3kHz – 4kHz range on the snare job, thrusting the impact hard forward. Bass is tight and controlled while still having some groove on it. Vocals are more forward on the U9 and a touch smoother and sweeter. Stage width and depth are a little bit smaller than the WAVAYA. The bass on the U9 has a bit more feeling, though the frequency response capabilities are pretty equal. The Octa has more roll off at the lowest end of the sub-bass range, which makes me inclined to like the sub-bass presentation of the U9 a little more for this hip-hop track. I like the less forward mids a touch more on the Octa.

I’m getting great texture in the treble on Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (DSD64). The guiro comes through with some nice firm texture without being pushed too forward. Cowbell is a touch more forward than usual but not overexposed. There is good width, getting outside the ears and good height presentation. Because of a tendency toward forward elements in the signature, the depth is fairly average. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is silken in its transitions with excellent decay characteristics and good speed on the attack. Cymbals have good definition and remain back of the vocals (this is a good thing). The overall signature of the Octa is less forward. Guiro and cowbell sit at similar depth but vocals are less forward. The sound has a bit more natural delineation of instruments. There is effortless separation, which causes me to notice the separation of individual vocalists in vocal harmonies more than I have before. Bass on the Octa is present, but not emphasized at the lower end like the U9. I personally prefer the U9 bass, but this is because extra sub-bass energy is always welcome and while a balanced armature can replicate the tone and timbre of deep bass well, it can’t match the palpable power that the dynamic driver led setup of the U9 can do. Treble on both is excellent, but the Octa is more refined and effortless which gives a better stage and a more real feel in vocals and instruments. The timing of the Octa treble just has more sonic information.

Yoni Wolf’s vocal comes out with that sweet nasally quality that I’ve come to expect and cherish on Why? – Strawberries (16/44) with the WAVAYA Octa. There is excellent separation and attack in the numerous treble and upper mids percussion instruments with natural decay all around. You can almost hear the individual grains in the maracas. Detail plus on the WAVAYA Octa. The synth bass and claps are a bit bigger on the U9. Yoni’s voice is sweeter and a bit less nasally than the WAVAYA, which means there is a touch of colour in the U9 signature because Yoni should sound a bit more nasal. The stage width is a bit less on the U9 than the Octa. Maracas are rendered just as precisely and decisively on the U9 as on the WAVAYA, which is impressive given the fact that the Octa uses 2 pairs of electrostatic tweeters.

Overall, the WAVAYA Octa was the superior IEM, but the gap is less than the $700 price difference would indicate—diminishing returns and all that. The WAVAYA wins on separation, refinement and the way the mids and treble just sound more real. The U9 has better bass and impact because that’s what dynamic drivers do best.

WAVAYA Octa ($1590) vs. Unique Melody Mason V3 ($2699)

Speedfiends rejoice Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 (DSD64) delivers some mighty rapid percussion and guitar. The Unique Melody Mason V3 does a great job resolving the rapid-fire cymbal work in the the treble. All other parts of the spectrum are also resolved with great speed on the Mason V3. On the WAVAYA Octa the bass drum isn’t coming off as clean as on the Mason V3. Cymbals have a bit more decay on the cymbals, but still keep up the speed on the cymbals well. Mids seem a touch further up in the stage on the Octa than on the Mason V3. Bass and guitar are further back on the Mason V3, which gives more perception of depth and more space for the cymbal hits to play within. The snare drums come off with a much cleaner rhythm, as does the bass. The Unique Melody Mason V3 does have a resolution advantage at $1000 more in price, but the decay is shorter on all areas of the spectrum, where in some places the listener might want a little less speed and precision.

The sweet violins in the intro on Kate Bush – Cloudbusting (24/96, vinyl rip) carry nice emotional weight while being precise on the Mason V3. Kate’s vocals are more forward, silky, and sweet on the Octa and a touch more breathy on the Mason V3. Violins have a bit more body and drums are more textured. The smacking of Kate’s lips is better revealed on the Octa during the intro, which might not be desirable for some, but is realistic. Both of these have realistic sounding timbre on the drums, but the Octa is more realistic with more tonal detail on drum hits. I love them both, but I get a bit more emotional response on the Octa than the Mason V3. When switching over to the copper cable on the Mason V3, I get a very similar presentation to the Octa. The flexibility is a really nice feature of the Mason V3, it really is like two IEMs in one with a common musical vocabulary but slightly different expression. Even in the copper comparison, the Octa is a bit richer on Kate’s vocals.

Bass anyone? Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16/44, binaural) has a big deep bass drop that I’d never fully realised until I recently listened to the Stealth Sonics U2, which rattles your brain like a can of pink paint. Continuing with a copper clad Mason V3 I get more detail in the mids but more bass body and depth on the Octa. The sound is more distant and less visceral on the Mason V3. It’s mighty spacious. Stage depth is better across the spectrum on the Mason V3. Instrument separation is excellent on both, but the Mason V3 comes off just a bit clearer.

The bass has nice deep extension on San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas – Beethoven – 9th Symphony; IV. Finale, Ode to Joy (24-96) with the undertones well resolved on the Octa. The male soloist has great power and definition. When the chorus comes in each individual voice is easy to separate in space with the strings backing nicely. Even when it gets busy some individual vocalists are easily picked out among the chorus. The Octa is comparatively warm in the mids to the Mason V3 which has a lighter, airier expression. The Mason V3 (copper cable) does a better job picking up stage depth and horns are more delicately rendered. Stage height is also taller on the Mason V3. Cello plucks and bass plucks are rendered better on the Octa with more weight and texture. These plucks are probably in the same frequency range as drums, which still have better resolution on the Octa with a more realistic timbre. With the copper cable, the Mason V3 doesn’t pick out individual vocalists as well as the Octa. With the silver cable, the sound has a bit more air to it on the Mason V3 and also a bit more ability to pick out individual vocal elements and small groups of vocalists. Strings have a bit more warmth on the Octa, with lower strings having a bit of accentuation. The tonal balance gives a nice natural feel to the instruments, though it would probably be a touch more neutral without the little bit of lower mids emphasis that lends warmth to the sound. I think a lot of people are going to like the combination of slightly north of neutral bass with good sub-bass extension, and the sublime texture and speed that the electrostatic tweeters give to the treble and mids.

The Octa are delightful. While they give up some air and tightness of resolution to the Mason V3, they hold up on speed, are better on drum hits and on resolving individual vocals, and have wonderful timbre. The Mason V3 has less distortion and a little more technical accuracy, but the Octa is more emotive. These are surprisingly well-matched at a $1100 difference (Mason V3 more expensive).

Specifications

WAVAYA have provided a frequency response chart, so I’ll provide that here.

Specifications  
Price $1590 (€1590)
Driver type 4 electrostatic super tweeters (2x Sonion super tweeters), 4 balanced armature drivers, 3 way crossover
Frequency response 5Hz to 22kHz
Impedance 19.5Ω at 1kHz
Sensitivity 100 dB at 1 kHz, 1mW
Construction Porcelain, no output tubes
Accessories Linum G2 SuperBaX cable, hand-made calf-skin leather case, leather cable wrap, earphone brush, polishing cloth, ear-cleaning tools, care instructions, warranty information, lots of swag
Warranty 2 years parts and labour

Acknowledgment

The WAVAYA Octa was provided free-of-charge by WAVAYA. I have received no compensation for this review. All thoughts in this review are my personal opinion.

If musicians reading want to get in on reviewing a unit, buy before July 31st 2019 and get a 25% discount and free concierge service.

Conclusions

The WAVAYA Octa has absolutely dreamy performance at $1590. As far as I know, the Octa was the first IEM to have an electrostatic quad tweeter setup, and I have to say, the kind of refinement that the quad tweeter gives to the sound is remarkable. Basically from the lower mids to the upper treble instruments just sound deliciously realistic. The bass has good texture, but it is a balanced armature set-up in the bass, so don’t expect that it will rumble you to your core like a dynamic driver can. From a comfort perspective, the harder porcelain material takes some getting used to, and still feels more present than an acrylic, but at the same time doesn’t cause the same amount of sweating or wax build-up, so it is a trade-off. I’m used to it, but it isn’t as comfortable as my best fitting acrylics—might be different for others. My ears are sensitive. The accessories that come with this are exceptional. The Linum SuperBaX is a fantastically comfortable and excellent sounding cable, the leather box securely holds the IEMs and looks classy. Overall, this is an exceptional bargain at $1590. WAVAYA has hit a grand salami here, My Oh My (still a Seattle Mariners fan).

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