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