Earlier this year at CanJam New York, I noted a surge of quality IEMs in the popular $199 to $299 range. Chief among those were some excellent new offerings from Periodic Audio (reviewed here), Acoustic Research, EchoBox and 1MORE. The 1MORE booth was actually the first portable audio manufacturer I visited for an extended period of time at the show, as they were demoing a fantastic new IEM and an excellent still-in-development over-ear headphone that were both really exceptional for the price. In audiophile circles, the name 1MORE is already nearly synonymous with tremendous dollar-for-dollar value. Their $99 Triple Driver In-Ear is considered by many to be a no-brainer recommendation. Their latest IEM, the Quad Driver In-Ear ($199), builds upon the success of its popular predecessor with a number of compelling improvements across the board.
Where the Triple Driver used a titanium dynamic driver for the bass and midrange frequencies, the Quad substitutes a diamond-like graphene diaphragm on its dynamic driver. A stiffer substance for sure, which should lend itself to lower distortion and more accurate attack and decay properties. While the Triple Driver handled the high frequencies with two balanced armatures, the new Quad Driver features three: two dedicated to the standard treble range, and one armature completely dedicated to covering ultra-high frequencies. As you might imagine, this leads to a nice, airy treble that makes the Quad sound much more open and spacious than many similarly-priced IEMs.
As with the Triple Driver, the new Quad has been expertly tuned by Grammy-winning sound engineer Luca Bignardi to deliver a balanced sound and realistic staging that belies its humble price point. It is simply able to do so with a greater degree of overall refinement than its $99 little brother.
A Presentation Fit
For A King
The design of the earphone itself is quite handsome. The body resembles a jet engine with a striking red accent about two thirds of the way toward the back. The nozzles emerge from the front at a 45-degree angle, and they are designed to be worn cable-down, though I was still able to wear them cable-up for the gym with a little bit of effort (the only annoyance here being the lack of memory wire to mold around the ear). The fit itself is actually quite comfortable, and the body is slightly lighter than one would expect at first glance.
One very thoughtful design touch was the tangle-resistant Kevlar-core OFC cable. With many IEMs, no matter how cleanly I wrap the cable, it magically transforms into a tangled mess whenever I remove it from the storage case. Not so with the 1MORE Quad Driver. When I take them out of the box, they are ready to go immediately, with no kinks to unwind or knots to undo. All in all it's a very impressive package and design. One could easily call it best-in-class. But as nice as these things are, the sound is where the rubber meets the road. So how did the 1MORE fare? Let's find out.
Enter The Sultan
Exploring the frequency range, we'll start with the best part first: the sub-bass. To my ears, the lowest frequencies are the star of the show. Sub-bass is elite and will go toe-to-toe with just about any IEM on the market. It is naturally tight and articulate, with exceptional force behind each note. It might be a little exaggerated in level, but in this case, I would say that is a very good thing because it performs at such an outrageously high level. Midbass is also very good, with monster impact and respectable decay speed that keeps it from hanging around beyond its welcome. Relative to the Quad's sub-bass, it is a little more down-to-earth in terms of quality, but that doesn't mean that it isn't excellent, because it certainly is. Activity between sub-bass and midbass is well-separated and easily distinguishable, even when things get quite busy in the music.
The midrange is solid, though is can come off as a touch recessed next to the monstrous bass region. Nevertheless it is fully present, punchy and surprisingly refined. Vocals are quite lovely with a feathery-soft, velvet lushness that never comes off as dry, harsh or shouty in the midrange or sibilant up top. Guitars have a good edge to them in the far upper reaches of the midrange around 3kHz, which tends to bring out some nice harmonic content that lends a sense of energy to the music. This was a nice surprise, given the warm, lush tonality – similar tunings can sometimes sound too rounded off – and this slight bit of edge really did lend a nice sense of balance to the sound signature overall.
As I mentioned up front, the treble is airy and well-extended, with three dedicated balanced armatures covering the region. Cymbals are rendered in nice detail, as opposed to the shapeless blobs of high-pitched noise that emit from many similarly-priced IEMs. Sibilance and stridence are a complete non-issue, and although the treble is quite smooth, I never felt that it veered into boring territory from being rolled off too far. This is a difficult balance to achieve, so kudos to 1MORE for really getting it right.
This nice treble extension also helps contribute to a fairly open and impressive soundscape. The most noticeable aspect of this soundscape is really the outstanding dimensionality, in terms of width, depth and height. The depth is especially notable, since it is so rarely found in lower-priced audio gear. Instruments layered cleanly from front to back on the stage in a very holographic way. Center stage isn't always in perfect focus, but overall the imaging is good and the instruments are cleanly separated from one another.
One area where the Quad Driver In-Ear might fall a little short is the deep, deep inner resolution of the instruments. For the price, it is about what you would expect or probably a little better– respectable for sure, but it doesn't dig down deep to reveal the nuances of different guitars or amplifiers or microphones (for a few examples) the way some higher-priced models do. In many cases, this was really the only significant limitation of the 1MORE relative to some models that cost $1,000 more. You just couldn't hear quite as far down into the notes.
That being said, the simple fact is many listeners prize clarity, separation and staging over having deep inner-resolution anyway. I found the Quad Driver performed beautifully on all these fronts. And if you listen primarily on a phone, you might not even miss this level of resolution at all.
Issuing A Royal
That being said, make no mistake – the Quad is able to scale up pretty nicely with a better source. Paired with the Chord Mojo it was flat-out impressive and hard to actually stop listening to. The powerful dynamics, best-in-class sub-bass, velvety mids and grand staging always kept me flipping for one more song... how fitting. Overall, I'd happily recommend this IEM to pretty much anyone searching for an earphone around at the $199 price point. It's hard not to get excited about a product that performs at such a high level for such a reasonable asking price. As dollar-for-dollar value goes, it looks like 1MORE has knocked it out of the park once again.
Equipment Used Within This
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