If you’re serious about earbud sound – mainstream solutions like Apple’s Airpods probably don’t float your boat. Nor would the ‘fashion accessory’ modular Ashley Chloe offering or the innovative ‘conversation amplification’ models from Nuheara, both of which we saw earlier this year at CES.
No. For you – the audiophile, the musician, or (like me) just the average Joe who appreciates great quality sound – there’s a swathe of premium earbud manufacturers vying to plug those holes in your head (better).
You want to make out that crisp high hat and feel that bass-line down the back of your neck, with vocals mixed perfectly in between. We’re talking about buds that can give you the goose-bump spine shivers.
That’s where small Californian outfit 1More comes in. They blew us away with a short demo of their Quad Drive in-ear model at CES, so much so that we thought it deserved a closer look.
First thing’s first – these things arrive in some pretty cool packaging that befits the premium price tag of $199 USD.
Open the fairly non-descript box featuring a graphic of the earbud and nothing else, and you’re greeted with delightfully laid out ingredients of the earbuds themselves, a beautiful leather carry case, aircraft-port adapter, 6.35mm adapter, and 8 different sized foam and rubber interchangeable bud covers (more on the latter in a minute).
You’ll also be hit with a delicious smell emanating from the foam packaging that can only be described as a whiff of petrol and greased machinery. Like they’ve just been forged in a steelworks. Very cool.
The earbuds themselves are little works of art – clearly crafted with great care and finished in what appears to be some sort of brushed chrome. The cord is clear-coated to reveal the twisted copper beneath, and features a three-buttoned remote/mic.
1More say these bad boys feature “diamond-like Carbon Dynamic Drivers” to provide “unsurpassed clarity and dynamic power”. They even enlisted the help of Grammy winning sound engineer Luca Bignardi in tuning the Quad Drive’s soundstage, and his words feature prominently on the packaging.
But all the tech in the world means diddly-squat if your buds don’t fit right. And funnily enough, an exceptional fit can deliver better sound than you can imagine from even the most average set.
Case in point: call me crazy, but the buds packaged with the old Blackberry Bold 8000 were, to my eardrums at least, among the best sounding OEM headsets available, even by today’s standards. They isolated outside noise perfectly and contained much better than average drivers – a nice recipe for great sound.
But back to the Quads, and sizing has (appropriately) been taken very seriously by the crew at 1More.
Those 8 different bud covers range from 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.5mm diameter sets in rubber, while the foam tips, more soft and malleable, are offered in 11mm, 13mm and 14.5mm.
Given my XXL ear holes give Dumbo a run for his money, I opted for the 14.5mm rubber and was pleased to find they fit perfectly.
Listening to a variety of tracks, the overwhelming experience the Quads deliver is one of balance. No jacked-up, overblown bass here. No tinny, superficial treble. Just a smooth balance of low, mid and high ranges that deliver what you would imagine is the most accurate representation of the music you’re hearing.
The great fit and quality of driver delivers an exceptional soundstage – whether it be a layered, minimalistic type of beat (Tash Sultana’s ‘Jungle’ for example) or something more demanding (the thick, electronic tunes of Peking Duk), the sound is deliciously engrossing.
Extended listening reveals the true range these buds can furnish upon your drums. The synthetic high-hat featured in the finale of Flume’s ‘Some Minds’, painfully ear-piercing on other sets (and speakers for that matter), asserts itself perfectly without rendering you deaf. Yoste’s ‘Chihiro’ sounded so good it was like I was in Tron, the Musical: a little digital version of myself running around inside the MP3, enjoying the track direct from the source.
A bit strong? Maybe. But hey, great headphones and great music can do that.
Any weak points? Not many, if any (‘uh-uh, uh-uh’… yes, Scribe sounds great too). Be prepared for slight ear fatigue if you’ve chosen a tight-fitting bud size, purely because there’s a tight seal there that’s helping to deliver you all that sound. But it’s minimal, and well worth it.
Of course, there’s also the fact these are wired earbuds that bring with them the hassle of tangled cords and the associated wear and tear. But for shoppers at this level it’s a moot point, because there’s no wireless set on the market that can compete with this sort of clarity.
No, to be frank, these are the best in-ear headphones we’ve tested to date, and we consider them well worth the investment. So the real question is… how much is a goose-bump spine shiver worth to you?