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Tralucent Audio Ref 1


Tralucent Audio: Ref 1.
























The Ref 1 is the second major IEM release from Tralucent Audio. On first glance it appears to be the same hybrid design (dynamic driver + 2 balanced armatures working in unison) as their first offering, the 1plus2, but a quick listing of the features shows that to not be the case. Apart from relatively smaller tweaks, the major change in design comes from the replacement of the standard dynamic with an isobaric setup. A typical isobaric design consists of two drivers placed together in an enclosure. These drivers are positioned either front to front, back to front, or back to back within the larger enclosure.









When I heard this, I assumed it would make for interesting possibilities. I just didn't guess how different the sound would be.









Side Notes




  1. Yes, there is driver flex on insertion. It's bothersome while it happens, but it's something that is only of concern when you see it...like Tom Cruise's asymmetrical face.
  2. The cable pin/earpiece situation is still unresolved. I would not personally advise you to leave your Ref 1 hanging around your neck. You may look down to find your neck accessory to be $1600 less valuable. Yes, Gavin has suggested a glue solution, but I don't feel it's adequate for an item as  pricey as this. I know things take time, but a couple of tweaks to the housing and cable design could solve the problem.
  3. The driver flex belies the fact that this is still an open IEM. It has the isolation of a HD600 or HD800. Thes are not the IEMs you're looking for...if you want isolation.






The majority of critical listening will be done using the Fiio X5 connected to my computer as a DAC through to the Tralucent T1 as the amp via the X5's Line Out. The Ref 1 is equipped with the new straight connector Silver&Gold cable option, and I've dressed it with the Ortofon tips. This Ref 1 is a loaner set from a friend, so it has been run through its paces before it got to me. I'll assume it no longer needs to be broken in, even though I'm more or less agnostic about the whole burn in thing.












Test Tracks



Feist - Limit to your Love

Kendrick Lamar - Don't Kill My Vibe

Die Zauberflöte: II. Akt, 29. Auftritt. Duette Papageno, Weib: "Pa - Pa - Pa" (Rene Jacobs)

Silent Knight - Versailles



I listened to several more songs, but these had specific elements that I feels would test the Ref 1's capabilities.












There are two types of IEMs when it comes to sound. Those that immediately strike you with one or more tuning features, and those that sneak up on you with their technical prowess. The Ref 1 is definitely in the first group. 


The proverbial elephant in the room here is the bass. It is indeed elephant-like in size and weight. I was genuinely surprised by the quantity of the bass, and the sheer thickness of the sound.


I'm a huge fan of the 1plus2's bass. It's close to my golden ratio of mid-bass versus sub-bass. It's nimble. It's hard-hitting when necessary, but almost never obstructs anything. It's highly textured. It feels like pure unbridled teenage energy. The Ref 1's low end is almost none of these things. It's simply too much bass, IMO. I also feel like it loses a lot of texture in the process. As a result of the size there is also an issue with coloration in the lower mids, where the mid bass bleeds further up. To add some scale to things, the Ref 1 dwarfs the ASG-2.5 when it comes to bass quantity. The ASG-2.5 on the low bass settings is both tighter and lighter than the Ref 1 by quite a margin.


Up to the midrange, the Ref 1 manages to retain great presence despite the bass quantity. However, I notice something quite interesting about the upper mids. To my ears, the Ref 1 is highly boosted in the upper midrange, to the point where it introduces this strange tonality and some level of graininess. It is somewhat reminiscent of the very first version of the the    ASG-1. Just like boosted bass can warm the sound of an IEM, boosted upper mids can impart a radio-like tonality to the rest of the mids. This is the case with the Ref 1. It can be appealing in certain instances, but more often than not I find it off-putting, especially when going back and forth with an IEM that is not so boosted. I think it was tuned this way to balance out the quantity of the bass, but it appears to have had some side effects.


Treble wise, the Ref 1 is without fault. It is smooth, extended, and very life-like. Treble has never been an issue for the Tralucent family.



On to the positives :o


The Ref 1 continues the Tralucent tradition of being extraordinarily spacious. It does not quite have the spatial prowess of the 1plus2 because of the sheer size of the bass, but it still is proficient in width and depth. Forward projection is not its strong suit though. 


The Ref 1 is also never short for detail. I can't use the superlatives like "hearing things I've never heard before" but details in the mids and highs certainly shine through.










All in all, I'm not sure what to think about the Ref 1. On some tracks, it's an experience. On others, it makes me raise my eyebrows and wonder what Gavin was thinking. Perhaps it was the result of the influence of the FitEar customs he has owned. It almost seems like the polar opposite of the 1plus2, which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. I'm among the people who thinks the 1plus2 only needed a few tweaks to flesh out the mids slightly. But I am only one data point in the scheme of things. As always, YMMV.


Pros: Raises the bar in "technical excellence" with its peers through is interpretation of bass, speed, soundstage. Driver flex on right IEM.

Cons: Fit is still a little fiddly like it's older brother 1Plus2, price, stock cable comfort


Tralucent Audio is a name that's appeared on Head-Fi only since August 2012 but has quickly made a name for themselves with their ability to challenge other IEM makers when it released it's 1Plus2. I reviewed that IEM last year as a love/hate relationship as I felt it excelled every aspect of audio technicalities an enthusiast or an audiophile seeks sonically but overall, didn't sound musical to my ears. My expectations of the 1Plus2 was eventually managed when I bought the earphone again but with the Tralucent Uber cable on the 2nd round. In short it took a little while for the 1Plus2 to get a little loving from me.


Now onto 2014, Tralucent Audio has done it again with a new model, the Ref 1 and this has taken a much shorter period of time for me to fall in love with - and with its stock cable, even more so with the Uber coupled with it, and in my impressions I'll tell you why.


The Ref 1 (I believe is the first to Edit: As per @shotgunshane, it seems Audio Technica has done isobaric before the Ref 1) employ an interesting isobaric design for it's pair of 9.2mm dynamic drivers, coupled with a pair of balanced armatures - so this is a 3-way, 4 driver, hybrid & isobaric IEM. But it seems Tralucent Audio didn't just want to go for unique in design, it further challenged it's own older brother, the 1Plus2, in technical excellence and improved on it's musicality.




The Ref 1 in many ways are very much alike the (latter version of the) 1Plus2 but just smaller. The socket design, the stem design, faceplate, position of the port, etc. are so similar it's the two models are easily mistaken for each other. As such comfort for me on both the 1Plus2 and the Ref 1 are very similar maybe leaning towards the Ref 1 for a slightly more comfortable due to it's size.


When popped into my ears, they do angle outwards at the bottom whilst the top inwards towards my skull, and this is due to the angle & length of the stems & tips into my canal, whilst the cable at the top of the IEM pulls the upper part of the IEM closer to my ears. As such the seal it creates is a light seal, of which if I move a lot, the earphone can pop out easily. However if I'm sitting, everything sits in place naturally. I can create a better fit by tightening the neck sleeve on the cord.


Whilst on the topic of seals, the isolation is similar to the 1Plus2. Due to the light seal and the vented port, isolation is average for my fit.


Thanks to @burtomr, he did remind me that with the demo Ref 1 unit I had, there was a driver flex on the right IEM only. This sounds like a crackling sound when putting on IEM and if I were to push it. It didn't bother me much as once I had it on I was listening to it for it's SQ, however I can see how others could find it annoying for an expensive IEM to have such an issue.




Tralucent has basically done it again by making an earphone that’s technical perfection but tailored for a different taste. This earphone is all the detail demon that the 1Plus2 was yet further incorporates musicality into it - which was what I was seeking in the 1Plus2. It has more “body” than the sound of the 1Plus2 but still remains technical.


One of the first things I noticed about the Ref 1 is how fast it was. Music just sounded more positive, lively, and slick overall. Articulate sounds transition so quickly yet naturally - slick and speedy. This provided an overall very refreshing sound across the board for all genre I was listening to. I'd very much like to see the waterfall plot of this IEM but I suspect it to have rather short decays across its frequency response.


Tonally to my ears the Ref 1 further carries on from the 1Plus2s but with slight differences. As with the 1Plus2, the Ref 1's bass extends deep with a nicely controlled rumble, into a tight mid-bass region which to me contributes to the speedy response mentioned previously. The way the bass is rendered, is one of the most addictive - it sounds realistic, clear, & taut.


As for the midrange, this is where to me the Ref 1 differs a little from  the 1Plus2. Overall, it has a fuller midrange which renders vocals in full bloom. However slicing into a little more detail, my ears seem to notice little dip in the lower region of the midrange which I think gives the overall vast soundstage for the whole signature. It's therefore able to achieve 2 goals simultaneously - provide a huge soundstage presentation yet with the rest of the midrange having a full sound give vocals a rich and blossoming body.


The trebles are personally to me the most welcoming especially when I found the 1Plus2 to sound sibilant with certain recordings on the stock cable. The Ref 1 manages the sibilance without sacrificing the treble extension. Trebles maintain it's airiness, crispness, detail, and smoothness.



As mentioned before, the slight dip in the lower portion of the midrange seems to contribute to the Ref 1's overall soundstage. The soundstage can't be emphasised further - it'a huge and vast, just like it's older brother. It's even more so with the Uber cable plugged into the Ref 1. I'd dare say that the soundstage would sit between my (former) Signature DJ's and TH-900's and that's where I feel the Ref 1 starts to challenge some closed back headphones.


Ref 1 with different DAPs

These days there's quite a bit of questions on synergy of the earphone with various amps, DACs, and DAPs. I've tried the Ref 1 with the Cypherlabs Algorhythm Solo -dB/Duet combo, AK240, HM-901 and NW-ZX1 and I feel that it works well with most of those combos with maybe the only exception being the NW-ZX1 where it starts to be more track and genre fussy. The NW-ZX1 tends to have a somewhat more treble-focused sound and combined with the Ref 1, on certain tracks can start to sound sibilant for my tastes. On the other hand tracks that aren't treble focused, on the NW-ZX1 the trebles can sound crisp and airy.


However for multi-genre and multi-purpose, I personally prefer the Ref 1 out of the AK240 or CLAS -dB/Duet in my collection.


Closing Notes



Personally for me, I feel Tralucent Audio has excelled in this new IEM. It's not only got a very innovative design by incorporating drivers in an isobaric configuration coupled with BAs for an overall hybrid design but more importantly producing a sound that has maintained Tralucent's house signature - technical excellence. It gives a fast and slick signature with a highly addictive bass and yet maintains the technical excellence of its older brother, the 1Plus2. It's provided a sound that I've not heard in other makers which make the overall experience very refreshing.


Pros: Big, Full Bass; Large Soundstage; Clear Treble; Very Good Instrument Separation

Cons: Bass Quality Isn't Quite Top-Tier;Treble Timbre is Off; Poor Ergonomics, Poor Quality Control

Thanks to Greed for a 10-day loan of his Ref 1 set, which I fully burnt-in and auditioned. This set had the uber cable.


Super Brief Review (it's all just what my ears heard, if you love your Ref 1 set, that's great, no need to defend it here):



-Real, air-moving bass sound thanks to the vented dual dynamic drivers. Bass is big, full and has great extension

-Clear treble. I didn't hear sibilance and the treble avoids a dark sound as well.

-Very good instrument separation

-Big soundstage

-I found the ref 1 to be less v-shaped in sound than the 1plus2



-Bass control is not top-tier at all. For some the amount of bass will be a problem as it's quite a lot.

-Treble timbre is off for an expensive iem, some instruments, voices don't quite sound right compared to other iem/ciems which sell for hundreds less

-Large, clumsy earpieces, not a good design at all

-Uber cable is very stiff and practically unusable in any other context than sitting at home in a chair not moving or reaching for anything.

-Serious quality control issues. Many, many people have had to send their set back for repair

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Tralucent Audio Ref 1

4 driver consisting of 2x Balanced armatures and a pair of isobaric 9.2mm drivers

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