This won't net me any friends, especially amongst the other 1964 owners, but it's my duty to relay a brutal honesty to anyone looking to spend $500+ on anything I own. But before judging me, understand that this is purely my opinion--and it should be tempered by the fact that I think the Q is a tremendously good headphone. They just don't particularly suit my taste. This will be the last review I do for head-fi, and it's gonna be a long one...1964 Ears has earned that much.
All that I have to compare them to is full-size headphones. My two favorites that I've ever owned are my heavily modified Grado SR225i with Jarrah Burl wood cups and my PRO900 with its XB700 pads: the trend of sacrificing Sony mediocrity to Ultrasone greatness is one I proudly admit to starting. The modified 225i is a startling diversion from the Grado house sound: absolutely no shrillness or peaky highs, with mids so sweet and liquidly musical that even Katy Perry becomes an enjoyable listening experience; the dense Jarrah Burl cups offering a level of bass that you won't find stock in any set of headphones with John Grado's signature on them. The PRO900 is an infamously divisive headphone, a love-it-or-hate-it beast of a can--one of the most polarizing that can still be considered hi-fi. It's terrifyingly revealing, chewing up low bitrate and poorly mastered songs and spitting them directly into your eardrum like daggers. The bass on them is capable of shivering your earlobes--literally--and the highs tiptoe delicately on the line between painful razor-sharpness and an exciting fireworks-like sparkle. I love them both dearly.
Unfortunately, I'm in Afghanistan and travel a LOT. So I began my search for an IEM that could bring the satisfaction of both these headphones at once. I knew from the beginning that it wouldn't be cheap, and I entered the fray expecting to spend $500+. I have ridiculously tiny ear canals, much to the amusement of both audiologists I saw. It's a fact that has caused me to shun all IEMs: even the smallest tips cause significant discomfort. Because of that, I cleared off every universal pretty quickly--the Jays Q-Jay was the only one that I might possibly be okay with wearing for more than 30 minutes at a time, but it's only got a single driver and there's no way it would be able to meet the criteria I'd set out. And I started looking to customs.
During the months of research between making my mind up to buy some customs and going home for R&R when I could actually purchase them, I came across 1964 Ears. I liked the company, the idea behind it, the fact they were US based, and--of course--everything I heard about their sound. After talking to Anastasia and Aleksey via email a few times, I was immediately impressed by the level of customer service represented there. They understood my situation--I was only going to be home for two weeks at the most, and I had to have my customs in my hands before I left again. They were more than willing to work with me. In the end, I had to have my impressions re-done because the first audiologist didn't get the the full helix. I went back, got a second set done, and overnighted the new impressions of the entire side of my head to 1964. They went WAY above and beyond, completing the customs in just 2 days. I had to pay for it, mind you--the total cost of my Q, including recessed sockets, simple artwork, and the rushed-rush processing (a term I coined that it seems the 1964 team enjoyed, because it showed up on my invoice) was $750, not including overnight shipping (twice) and the audiologist. More than I expected, but with service like that...I don't mind paying the premium. And it's still the same price as the UM quad-driver. I got them the day before I left. I don't have the words to express how awesome their customer service was throughout the entire experience.
The Qs are beautiful. I got one solid black and one transparent black, with a red flame on the solid black one--I caught my hand on fire cooking chicken fingers back in 2004, and my callsign ever since has been Torch.
Military humor is sick. I've embraced it.
I haven't found any bubbles in them, and the transparent is downright captivating to look at. I kind of wish I had gotten them both in transparent black, but the solid one makes it easier for me to figure out which one is the right ear in low light. I was seriously stunned by how good they look. I'll post pictures of them when I get a chance...maybe tonight.
Once I put them in my ears, it was...weird. Because of the tiny canal issue I mentioned earlier, I'm not used to stuff being in my ears. I don't even like having to wear earplugs when I'm on a flightline or in a helo. I'm finally getting used to them now, 3 weeks later. I thought the fit may have been off when I first got them, but now I realize I just wasn't used to the inner ear pressure. The fit is perfect--in the last week or so, I've worn them for 12+ hours at a time with no fatigue. 1964 nailed it, a fact made even more awesome by the compressed timeline of their manufacture. This is something to be aware of if you're not used to IEMs and/or have never owned a custom. No one really prepared me for it. They are hard, so--unlike silicon-tipped universals--your ear canal conforms to the shape of the IEM rather than the other way around. It takes a while to accustom yourself to it.
My first disappointment came when I plugged them into my iPod and put on Flux Pavilion's Bass Cannon. Probably not the best song to start with. And it was made worse by the fact that I'd just come off a marathon listening session with my PRO900, the oft-disputed-but-never-toppled King of Bass. The bass was plentiful and pretty deep, but the overall sound was just boring. I was like..."I paid $700 for these?"
The PRO900 is a brutal assault on the senses...like a Blitzkrieg targeted at your ear canal. By comparison, the Q is tight and utterly controlled. The bass is authoritative and extends to subterranean levels--which is in itself remarkable--but not particularly thrilling. When I say deep, I mean deep, at least for an IEM. With the right equipment (a point I'll discuss later) they will reach down to around 30hz...rolloff doesn't seem to occur until ~25hz. The highs are literally incomparable. The Q starts to roll off slowly and gently above 2.4khz, where the PRO900 will shred all the way through the upper frequency range. After all the time I had just finished spending with the Ultrasone and having owned and listened to them daily for months, I was enormously saddened by the fact that the Q failed to stir my heart. It definitely delivered the bass it claimed to, but it wasn't the furious frenzy I am used to being spoiled by--it was a symphony of various levels and subtleties of low-end frequencies. Very, very good. Just not exciting.
After listening to a few more dubstep and D&B songs, I decided to move on to some vocal and acoustic tracks, tracks the Grado excelled at. They included the acoustic version of Motorcycle's Imagination, Rise Against's Hero of War, and the Crooker's mix of Kid Cudi - Day N Night--along with a few others. A diverse selection. The value of the Q started to present itself here. They reproduce vocals very accurately but remain fairly musical. I would not call them liquid, but they offer a very, very slight smoothness to the midrange that makes them highly listenable. The Motorcycle song wasn't chillbump inducing like her voice is on the 225i, but it was enough to make my neck tingle and the tonality was very pretty and endearing. The problem, again, was that I found them boring.
By this point, you may have realized that I like colorful headphones. I don't want accurate reproduction, I don't want to hear the dude in the front row of a live concert fart. I want to lean back and get lost in Nina Simone's voice, or listen to a Bar9 song and poop myself at the drop. I like exciting, fun cans that make me *want* to listen to music, that force me to revisit my entire collection of music to see what it sounds like.
The Q is none of those things. They're really damn good. They are an incredibly inoffensive headphone. They're easy to listen to for hours at a time without ever experiencing fatigue. They are analytical without being dry, lending a very slight coloration to the music--just enough to make them appear musical but not enough to give the music a distinct character of their own. The bass is definitely something to write home about, especially considering the form factor--tight and controlled, with great definition and cavernous lows. Despite the emphasis that is given to the low end by reviews on head-fi, I consider them a mid-biased headphone. They really hit their stride with acoustic or vocal-centric music, the sweet spot lying between 300hz and 2.4khz. That, at least, was something that I was not prepared for and was not disappointed by. On top of all of that, the FR graph provided by 1964 is one of the most accurate I've ever seen as far as what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
What they are not is exciting or colorful. Their inoffensive character will probably appeal to the vast majority of listeners on head-fi, and for good reason. You may assume that this was a negative review, but it's really not. I can't fault the headphone for anything. They just aren't my style.
But then, after all is said and done, they are growing on me. They're the only headphones I brought back to Afghanistan with me, and they'll be the last I buy. I intentionally put off doing this review until I'd had several weeks with the Q to give my head some time to burn in. I think that with another driver or two to flesh out the high end, I would probably be more pleased with the sound...but I'm not sure if I would be happier with the overall product. My growing appreciation for how easy they are to listen to makes me hesitant to want any changes; on a 30+ hour "road trip" or a transatlantic flight, the ability to never take them out of my ears more than justifies the cost and makes up for the lack of excitement.
So the question remains: should you buy them? I would say that if you've made it to the end of this review and you're still considering them, then most definitely. Not that many people interested in a serious stage monitor share my proclivity for crazy-ass headphones, and every day I become a little happier with my purchase despite myself. If you're not me--and I have it on good authority that you're not--you will probably be in love with these little Q's from "go".
Note: I've found that their transparency causes them to respond to changes in equipment more obviously than any other can I've owned or auditioned. On most other headphones, I hardly even notice a change in going from my laptop headphone out to my Hifiman EF2A, and nothing with more minor changes in setup. With the Q, I noticed a difference just changing out the tubes in the EF2. I found that they have a very good relationship with Russians...the Voshkod 6AKW is a fantastic fit and brings some liveliness to the little IEM. Obviously, it's not a complete makeover, but it offers just enough of a change in signature to make them a little more fun.
Edit: I felt like the first line, though intended to just grab attention, actually distracted from the points I was trying to make with the review.
Edited by benzoylmethyl - 11/3/11 at 5:20am