I was asked by some friends to write a mini review on the new ACS T1 2010. It would be useful for sharing it on the head-fi community.
My journey on custom IEMs began in 2008 when some UE11 Pros of “dare devils” landed within my driving range. My first impression on custom IEMs was so wow !! However, given my preferences in HD800’s and L3000’s it seemed something was still missing. IMHO, I found the UE11 Pro’s couldn’t match sound quality of full-size headphones, mainly overwhelming bass and lack of details. I clearly understood why it was made for drummers.
By chance, a friend of mine had kindly pointed me to the ACS T1 CIEMs (3 drivers inside silicone) which are popular in the UK. After correspondences with Andy’s at ACS and his assurance on the T1’s sonic signature, I decided to wait for the ACS T1 2010 Edition, i.e. the T1 Gen2.
Finally, last March, my custom T1 arrived. It sounded so incredible, ways beyond my expectation !! My iPod Classic 120 became a bliss music device carried with me. The T1 offered warm-sweet mids and vocals, punchy bass and smooth highs. Tracks in my iPod sounded so musical and enjoyable as much as I experienced from my desktop set.
If you love vocals, then the ACS T1 could make you melt. If you love classical, then you would be so surprised how the T1 reproduces the atmosphere for you. If you love rock music, then you would nod your head along as you can *FEEL* drum sounds vibrate through the soft silicone shells !! I was jaw-dropped when I was experiencing this the first time.
Your low bit-rate MP3 music and poor mastering titles would sound never before, i.e. so musical. The T1 reveals musicality hidden in your iPod as if you put an audio tube inside. A complaint people made is about high frequency roll-off, but I find this is non-disturbing. I personally find tonal balance of the T1 is one of the best. I can turn music very loud but having no ear-piercing at all. The new T1 was tuned according to listening tests from various audience groups. Maybe this is what UK people prefer.
Due to my light travel requirement, unamp setup was preferred. Given sounds produced, this T1 portable set was more than enough for me until last October. A friend of mine came to visit me, actually to audition the Stax SRS-4040 and the SR-507. He also carried his new toy, the WhipMOD player (from Whiplash Audio) i.e. a modded iPod.
Upon my curiosity, I plugged my T1 into it and played some music. OMG, what on earth there was such a portable player !! It sounded so clean, very detailed and really balanced. The music sounded never before PERIOD !! This is the only reason why I ordered a WhipMOD 120. So, Listening is believing.
I happen to have the Thunderbolt portable amplifier (from HotAudio) which is powerful and transparent. The Thunderbolt can drive full-size headphones such as the AKG K701, the Ultrasone Pro 2500 and the JVX DX1000. I also like tonal balance and transparency of my UE700 very much, but it is one of IEMs that is hard to drive. I discovered that the UE700 can sound like UE10 Pro’s - i.e. clean, extended, detailed, accurate, fast - when connecting with the Thunderbolt. Wow ! So, drive your IEMs properly.
Music from my WhipMOD + ACS T1 combo sounds incredibly fantastic. This sonic signature is close to what played from a Mullard tube amplifier, particularly similar tonal balance, texture, and sweet mids. If you love Mullard, then this is a portable music set of choice for you. Just close you eyes.
Another very surprising discovery I found was from the combination of the WhipMOD and the Thunderblot. If you love Mullard EL34 xf1, then this is the xf1 portable set for you:
WhipMOD > WhipLOD > Thunderbolt > ACS T1 2010
Simply "Portable Mullard xf1 set on earth !!"
The Thunderbolt perfectly adds the signature of the xf1 into the sonics, i.e. cleaner, faster, more detailed, more extended (sparking high and deeper bass), tighter bass, and precise note separation. Installing Li-Ion 9V battery as the power source reduces noise floor to the minimal level. More details are revealed. This set goes closer to the tip of head-fier’s Everest. With this combination, music sounds to best to my ears, like biasing the xf1 to get the best sounds. I’ve tried both iPower and Hitech, and they are excellent.
Last but not least, people have questioned about silicon shell IEMs. After one-year of my T1 experience, I don’t think I can tolerate hard-shell IEMs. Wearing T1 is easy (by snapping) and very comfortable. On a plane or in a noisy environment, each side of the monitors seals my ear canal tightly, but without discomfort. In a comfort seat or on a pillow, I wear my T1 listening to music and fall asleep shortly. This would explain you how comfort the T1 offers.
If you like eye-candy, then look at the T1s of my friends.
IMHO, I find that the ACS T1 doesn't match well with other portable amplifiers even the renowned XIN and M3, given flat tonal balance and transparency as I prefer. Bass and mid-bass can be overwhelming. However, personal preferences may vary while certain genres of music may suit these combinations. My friend really loves his XIN SuperMacro-IV + UE11 Pro for live performance recordings. His heart can "explode" by this set.
If you love Mullard, may I warn you don't try this portable "Mullard xf1" set. My friend made a big mistake. A ticket to the Everest was booked.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy your day and portable music !!
PS The ACS T1 also sounds superb when paired with the Hifiman HM-801 or HM-602, giving similar tones and transparency to the WhipMOD + the Thunderblot combo's, but a bit less bass and higher noise floor. However, the 801 + the T1 combo rocks !
Edited by bordins - 2/18/11 at 4:00pm