Pros: Comfort, balanced sound, overall quality of both product and accessories, unique purchasing experience, no more leading anyone your earbuds!
Cons: Ultimate cost (though still good vfm), shows poor recordings for what they are.
So Chaps I just wanted to spend some time putting down in words a recent purchase and experience which has been 100% positive, even with the amount of money involved.
First a picture of the little blighters.
Sorry but I nabbed this picture from a review because Susy's out with the camera at the moment. Besides, this is far batter than I would do anyway, but I will and some real ones of mine soon which are all-black in finish with the ACS logo in white on one and blue on the other to ID left from right.
So why have I bought what look like two alien embryos on wires to stick in my ears? Well of late, I've found myself doing an increasing amount of headphone listening in the house, as well as to my main system in the Man Cave. The problem was that my HD580/600s and AKG K701s are open-backed and so my 'personal listening' wasn't that personal and was getting on my better-half's wick.
I started out looking around for a suitable set of closed-back phones, but to be honest, there aren't a lot of particularly good choices apart from something like the Denon AH-D7000s. I was pretty much decided on these when a chance conversation with a friend opened my eyes to an alternative.
Tristan is a classical music freak. He works for Universal Music developing their on-line distribution strategy, conducts and composes for an orchestra he set up in Canary Wharf and has done reviews of the Proms for the BBC, so let's just say he's pretty damned fussy about how things sound. He's had a pair of these for about a year, having owned the cheaper T2 versions for about 3 years before and said if I was thinking of the Denons then I really had to try these out.
I did do the usual period of Googling, including reviews here, but to be honest, it was the unequivocal nature of Tristan's recommendation, my knowledge of what a picky bugger he is, plus the fact that ACS offer a 30 day money back guarantee, that really made my mind up.
It was in-fact, the money-back guarantee that first made me realise that ACS are bit different. A money back promise on a pair of IEMs that have been custom moulded and hand made to fit my ears and my ears alone?! Clearly this was not a promise that any company was going to make if they didn't have total confidence in their product, and so it proved to be with these little beauties.
I chose to visit ACS in Banbury in person. It's only about an hour from me, and for the money involved, I thought it worthwhile. Basically I turned up, got given tea and biscuits and was able to have a chat with the MD Andy Shiach, who must be one of the nicest and most enthusiastic men I have ever met. One of their technicians then squirted pink goo in each ear to make the impressions, and after deciding what colour I wanted (I went for black) and how long the cable should be, I made my way home (without the goo-filled ears I hasten to add).
After a couple of e-mails updating me of progress, a package arrived about 10 days later (seems I cut the waiting time slightly with my personal visit), with my T1s safely packed up inside - and I do me SAFE! The picture shows a bomb-proof, water-tight Pelican case that is all part of the standard 'package' - as is the leather pouch, cleaning bits etc. All very impressive and really does add to the sense of value.
So far the whole experience had been wonderful. A very personal, bespoke service from a UK company who really seemed to be very proud of what they did and seemed very professional and knowledgeable. Also the quality of the product and the way it was presented was totally above reproach - absolutely excellent.
Of course all this would have been for naught if they then failed to deliver, and even with all the VERY positive reviews on the web, Tristan's evangelical recommendation and Andy Shiach's compelling patter, I was still a very nervous man when I sat down, wedged them into my ears and turned them on for the first time. Yes I know I would have got my money back, but after all the anticipation, I think the disappointment would have made that seem like small consolation!
Now I've had a number of in-ear 'phones before and they have ranged from bloody awful (some £70-ish Denon things bought in haste at Heathrow airport before a flight to Auz when I realised I'd lost mine at security!), though to the really rather good Shure SE420s, but even the good ones had been slightly uncomfortable/fiddly to put in/difficult to keep in and a bit uneven in their tonal balance. These T1s on the other-hand are a total revelation.
They are completely comfortable once in place. The only time I am really even aware of them is when they first go in and are cooler than body temperature. As soon as they warm up (which they do very quickly), I really can't feel them until someone tries to speak to me and I can't hear what they're saying. Oh and I think my ears would fall off before they fell out.
Obviously the sound is the MOST important bit....
A brief demonstration of how amazed I am by them, is that I'm getting rid of my much-loved AKG K701s and Sennheiser HD580/600s and really don't have any regrets about doings so. I had always been a total open-backed fan, so this is a BIG deal.
They are wonderfully balanced from top to bottom with no obvious emphasis on any one part of the range. Good recordings, especially those with great acoustic details (think Cowboy Junkies - The Trinity Sessions), really stand out and crap ones sound just that. Some might see that as a down-side, but I've always liked a system that 'tells it like it is', even if the story isn't particularly good news, because the up-side is that the good stuff really shines through.
The bit that has surprised me the most is how 'open' they sound. I know that seems a silly thing to say, given that they are about as 'in' my head as it's possible to be without sharing brain-space, but they don't have that shut-in feeling that all closed-back phones have always had for me. They don't sound as 'free space' as my AKGs, but the amazing noise isolation means that this is a happy trade-off for the immersive 'sound bubble' they put me in.
The T1s are both a great tool for peeling away the layers of a recording so you can hear how much (or how little!) love and effort was put into the performance and the recording, and also for just closing your eyes and getting lost in the moment - good live recordings are wonderful. Also I've noticed that good recordings of ALL ages are allowed to shine in their own way. Well recorded 'old' albums like Tapestry by Carole King, sound just as great as a more modern but equally fine example of recording and production like Welcome To The Pleasure Dome by Frankie Goes To Hollywood (this is a bit of a 'hidden gem' if you ask me). The difference being that the natural 'softness' of the tapes and valves of the older recording come through.
The other thing I discovered today on a noisy train back from Sheffield, is just how impressive the sound isolation is. I was able to listen to really finely recorded acoustic tracks and still enjoy everything. In that kind of environment, it would normally be a waste, but not with these.
Anyway I've rambled on enough. I'll finish by saying that this has been one of those special and rare discoveries, where looking for a solution to a problem has taken me somewhere I didn't expect. Combine the enjoyable experience of the purchase process, the quality of the product and the wonderful sound and it really feels like value for money, even if it can't be really.
I just wanted to add a little something further about ACS themselves. Let's be straight, they are not a big company - having visited in person, I know this to be true - but they clearly DO care a great deal and are a lovely, very dedicated team, who clearly have as many famous clients BECAUSE they care and go the extra mile.
I also liked the fact that while I was sat in a chair in the office with goo in my ear, a door opened and I could see straight into the lab where the guys where hand-building people's IEMs. It's a personal touch that is very rare and I left feeling like I had become a valued customer and not just a number.
If you do take a punt on these, you won't be disappointed and I promise you that you will have invested in a product and company you can be proud of.