Pros: Visceral bass, great sense of scale, smooth articulate sound, drivers well integrated
Cons: Disappointing build quality, lacks a little high frequency extension, vocals a little unengaging, extremely expensive
*Please ignore the audio quality / comfort / design / isolation / value sliders for this review. As far as I can tell, they seem broken*
This is a universal in-ear monitor with a two balanced armature drivers and a dynamic driver. This earphone costs $1250 IEM with a cable that costs about $800, or as a package together, about $1400. I'm part of an Australian listening tour for this earphone and I spent 2 weeks with it.
Let me say this first: I found this IEM really hard to review for a number of reasons, and all of them are related to the price of this earphone.
The most expensive earphone that I own is a second hand pair of Sony MDR-EX1000, which at the time of release were something like $600 or $700. At that time, people were saying that this was a ludicrous price to pay for an earphone that was not a custom monitor.
In recent times it now seems that $1000 is the new starting price point for flagship universal in-ears.
Whenever there is a high priced product released, there is a rehash of the same tired argument two sides. One side thinks this kind of high pricing is a cynical cash grab. There's another side which is willing to pay good money for what is hopefully an amazing aesthetic experience, and other people who would aspire to spend that kind of money.
Here's my perspective: I'm a student. I'm a believer in the free market. I believe that things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them, and as far as I know, no one is being forced to buy thousand dollar IEMs against their will.
Even putting a dollar price on sound quality is a bit odd because it is as much a subjective experience as a technical one. Buying high end audio is something like evaluating a painting or a sports car. There are technical aspects to the performance of the product. But it's also a lot about how it makes you feel. It is never a completely rational purchase.
I'm actually very hesitant to even talk about pricing or 'value for money' in my reviews, because everyone's preferences and circumstances are different. I don't want to encourage the perception that more expensive things always sound better in audio, because it simply just is not true. At the same time I think it's condescending to say that people who spend X money on so and so product are suckers. It's the kind of knee jerk reaction that seems to start a lot of pointless and boring arguments.
At the same time when a product costs this much, I can't help but get extremely hyper - critical, because at this price point things that might be acceptable in a cheaper product start to seem unacceptable at higher prices.
The best I can do in a review is to compare what I think are similar products in terms of build quality, ergonomics and sound quality, give a personal opinion, and hopefully people can use the information in my reviews and the reviews of others to come to their own decision.
In the case of 1Plus2, I can tell you that while I think it does sound really good, I would not be willing to pay $1250 for it. Here's why.
I made a Youtube video that gives you a look at the 1Plus2 as well as some of my observations about the build quality which are also reiterated below in text. If you like my videos, please check out my channel.
I place a lot of emphasis on build quality and design in my reviews, because I think build quality is a relatively objective thing that people can see and know what they are paying for.
Frankly, for the price of the 1Plus2, the build quality and design is embarrassing. It has a lot of 'boutique audiophile charm', which is another way of saying it seems amateurish.
Starting with the shells, they are quite large, bulky and made of acrylic. This is the material that they make custom moulded earphones with. Acrylic is fine for custom earphones because they are made on a case by case basis, moulded to an individual ear. It would be too expensive to make an injection mould for every individual customer, and the custom shape might be impossible to CNC mill or use some other manufacturing process.
But the 1Plus2 is a universal fit earphone. If you actually look at the internals of the 1Plus2 you can see most of it is empty plastic. I cannot think of any reason why it needs to be made this bulky or made out of this material, except that Tralucent wanted to make it 'look' like a custom moulded earphone and therefore charge the price of a custom for it.
Edit: The intrepid Tomscy2000 (always a knowledgeable one) suggests this reason for the 1Plus2's bulk:
If this is indeed the case I do retract what I say about the 1Plus2's bulk and apologise. I would still like to see it made out of metal though.
Even then, I want to bring up another product I currently have a demo unit for: the Null Audio Elpis. This is a 3D printed hybrid custom earphone from a company in Singapore which retails for about $250 USD - one fifth the price of the 1Plus2. (I plan to have a review up of the Elpis soon).
I bring the Elpis up not because it sounds as good as the 1Plus2. It doesn't, but it sounds better than the price difference might have you believe. I mention the Elpis because it demonstrates that it is not particularly costly or complex to make a hybrid design with a dynamic driver and balanced armature drivers and print it out of acrylic. It also does not need to be this bulky. The 1Plus2 is only marginally better built than the Elpis and it is not a custom earphone. I don't see where the extra money went.
Let's talk about the cable. The cable that I got on this listening tour is the silver/gold MK2 cable which bumps the price of the 1Plus2 up to $1400 or costs about $700 separately. Don't ask me how the maths works there.
I'm not personally a believer in cables making a huge difference in sound quality, but let's leave that to the sound science forum. That aside I have huge issues with the cable because for an $700 product it is very disappointing.
The cable is extremely stiff because it is clearly just heat shrink around a braided wire. The plastic on the connectors is ugly - you can see the mould seams. The connection itself is an older two pin connecter type. People on the listening tour have observed that the right earpiece on this unit will detach easily, and I have found this to be the case as well.
I thankfully have not dropped it, but I would never take this earphone outside where an earpiece could detach and drop onto a hard surface. I would not take this earphone outside anyway, because even though it is comfortable and has okay isolation it is expensive and the bulky high profile design is clearly prone to wind noise.
On the other end of jack has no strain relief and is just a off the shelf part soldered onto wire. The lack of any kind of strain relief is extremely troubling.
Simply put: I do not think the 1Plus2 feel like a $1250 product. What products feel like a thousand dollars?
Let's take the Sony EX1000. It is a beautifully crafted piece of mag alloy. The cables are beautiful and supple and the connection terminal and strain relief is completely solid. Let's take the Bang & Olufsen H3. It is a beautifully crafted piece of aluminium with tiny vents milled at a precision I have never seen in an earphone. It is $250. How about the JVC FXD80-Z? It is milled out of stainless steel and feels like a tank. It costs $70. I can name any number of earphones that have amazing build quality,like the mag alloy Westone ADV's, or my friend's pair of titanium shelled Audio Technica CK100Pro's, or the AKG K3003.
I have held all those products in my hand and they scream craftsmanship. Even if most of them cost a lot of money, they FEEL like a lot of money.
The 1Plus2 does not feel like that. Personally, I don't care how good a product sounds - at a certain point there is no excuse for a product this expensive not to have an amazing build. Or conversely, I would not feel right about pricing a product with this kind of build at this kind of price. It comes with the territory.
Thankfully, I am much more enthused about the sound of the 1Plus2 than the build.
I did most of my listening on an Objective 2 / ODAC with a mixture of lossless ALAC and high bitrate MP3 / AAC files. I also did some listening on my iPhone 5 and found that that the 1Plus2 is quite easy to drive.
The 1Plus2 sounds quite amazing. I don't know if they sound $1200 amazing (if that even makes sense), but it's clear Tralucent has done a pretty good job of integrating BA + dynamic drivers. Overall, the 1Plus2 sounds clean and smooth, with articulate detail and speed.
Before I heard the 1Plus2 I was a little skeptical about Tralucent's approach of putting the dynamic driver right behind the BA units, because this would mean that the bass and high frequencies will never reach the ears at the same time without some kind of crossover or DSP magic. It doesn't seem like this arrangement has a negative effect on the sound. The 1Plus2 does have a pretty amazing sense of scale that may be an artefact of the tiny travelling time increase introduced to the bass frequencies.
Speaking of the bass, it is immediately the most standout aspect of the 1Plus2. It is exceptionally tight and fast and extends extremely low with great authority. The 1Plus2 actually seems somewhat emphasised in terms of sub-bass - lowest registers hit very hard which gives everything a very big sense of scale.
Using the bass test at Audiocheck http://www.audiocheck.net/testtones_subwooferharmonicdistortion.php
I was able to hear that the driver is doing something audible at 14hz (may just be distortion) but is certainly present and accounted for at 20hz.
At times the bass can feel a little too heavy handed, giving it a bit of a blunt quality on some tracks. The bass of the 1Plus2 suggests the thinking behind the hybrid approach: if you look at the the worst aspects of dynamic driver IEMs in small enclosures, like the SE215 and Westone ADV, they have amazing bass punch but can sound muddy and congested in the highs. Put in a known quantity like the TWFK and tweak a crossover and, hey presto, you have the bass everyone secretly (or not so secretly) loves with the treble that everyone demands.
Of course, the single high bandwidth single driver IEMs like the GR07, RE-400 and Yamaha EPH-100 demonstrate that the hybrid approach still doesn't seem all that necessary to get a powerful visceral bass response with clean treble. This is without all the phase and impedance interaction issues that crossovers introduce.
Mids / Vocals
Mids and vocals on the 1Plus2 do not make a particularly strong impression on me. Actually, the mids are perhaps somewhat recessed in the signature. They are smooth and articulate, but they don't have any particular texture or magic to them that you might hear on something like an Audio Technica CK100 Pro or Sony EX1000.
So vocals are not the star of the show. That's not necessarily a bad thing. The 1Plus2 just sounds measured and competent.
The treble again is smooth and has a kind of brittle sheen / shimmer to it that seems characteristic of TWFK treble. The treble is very fast, and lacks decay to the point of maybe feeling a little tacky at times. Again, all very inoffensive and hard to fault, but not the star of the show. I got the sense that the 1Plus2 lacks absolute treble extension of some of the better dynamic drivers like the RE-400 and GR07.
I was able to confirm this with another test at Audiocheck.net http://www.audiocheck.net/audiotests_frequencycheckhigh.php
I am 25 and I can hear the RE-400 and GR07 kick in clearly at the 18-17khz region, whereas the 1Plus2 only becomes clearly audible between 17-16khz. If you think only mosquitos listen to these tones, please keep in mind that the main argument for lossless tracks is that it preserves audio information resolution at these super high frequencies that would be discarded or aliased with lossy algorithms.
If you want to try this test yourself, the site recommends that you download the file and play it to avoid aliasing artefacts from being played through the browser.
In terms of soundstaging, there is a lot said of the very wide soundstage of the 1Plus2, as if they were a pair of full sized headphones. While the 1Plus2 has very pin point accurate soundstage, in terms of sheer width I never got the illusion that I was literally wearing a pair of HD800's or something.
I do feel that the massive sub-bass response grounds the sound and gives everything a sense of visceral scale and authority. Combined with the articulation of the TWFK units, everything does have a great sense of placement and presence.
In terms of the perceived space I would only go so far as to say that the 1Plus2 has a soundstage wider than most IEMs and about as wide as the Sony EX1000 / 7550, which have very wide soundstages thanks to their treble responses and odd ear hanger designs.
If I had the time to do extensive tip rolling with the 1Plus2, I could probably find a tip that would boost the high frequencies and thus create a wider sense of space. Playing around with the EQ I did find that boosting frequencies above 4khz did give a wider sense of space, but only up to a point.
In terms of timbre, while the BA units make the 1Plus2 sound extremely clean, the fast decay and slight lack of treble extension meant that I still did not get the sense of texture or timbre that I get from good dynamic drivers like the GR07, EX1000, RE-400 or 7550.
I think the 1Plus2 sounds particularly amazing with electronic music, where the 1Plus2's strengths in terms of speed and resolution, as well as that visceral bass, really come into play.
Maybe this is my personal preference, but I did not find the 1Plus2 as engaging with vocals or strings as I do with a lot of my dynamic driver in-ear collection.
As I stated before, I think the 1Plus2 sounds amazing, with a combination of characteristics - speed, articulation and bass slam, which make it a great listen. It is definitely one of the best IEMs I have ever heard, but the sound does have some flaws My time with the 1Plus2 does not make me want to sell all my gear to buy one at $1250. After two weeks I did not enjoy the 1Plus2 especially more than my current stable of favourites, though it is very good.
Again, returning to that terrible bugbear of the price. What are you paying for with the 1Plus2?
Are you paying for an amazing build, a piece of quality craftsmanship that is beautifully functional and durable? No, not at all.
Are you paying for amazing R&D, some amazing technical innovation that wasn't just buying TWFK drivers off the shelf from Knowles and putting them in an acrylic shell with a mystery dynamic driver? No you're not.
So you're paying for the sound, which is pretty great. I personally wouldn't pay $1250 for it, because it is impractical for outdoor use and in-doors I may as well buy a full-size headphone for better long term comfort.
But if you like it and are willing and able, then go for it and enjoy some music!
As we say on Head-Fi, sorry for your wallet!