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Quarkie: Insane designer earphones which actually sound good (review)

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

If you haven't heard of Quarkie yet, all you need to see as an introduction is this:

 

 

Yeah that's a snake head sticking out of her ear, complete with a tongue. Or an eye. Or a rusty bolt. Overall there are 6 models in 7 colors. Quarkie web site is here.

 

Apparently Quarkie earphones are the typical 'designer' headphones - insane designer that is.

 

Here I have two of these things. The Viper head and the Snake Eye. While the design can seem unnerving to the squeamish, one has to appreciate the attention to detail. The tongue sticking out of the viper's head is particularly funny, though I'm not sure how long it will last before breaking. Both earphones are beautifully crafted, complete with with skin and eye pupils. Just what you'd expect from a professional halloween costume. The earphones are completely made of plastic, but seem sturdy enough (apart from that tongue that is). The cable is very soft, fabric-covered and not very prone to microphonics, despite the fact it's meant only for straight-down wearing. On the right side you'll find a microphone with a control button. Both work just fine with the iPod Touch for Skype calls as well as music pause/resume. The microphone shell, cable split and I-jack are all covered in aluminum.

 

 

 

The earphones are quite lightweight and I found them to be surprisingly comfy. The designers didn't try to reinvent the wheel this time and just used the same style like seen on e.g. Fischer Audio Paradigm v3 or some Audio-Technica models. In other words, the nozzles are angled toward the ear canal. I must admit I think this configuration is the best for IEMs and I prefer it a lot over the over-the-ear monitor-style. The only thing which would make it better are oval nozzles. Of course if you're used to custom IEMs or prefer that style, you probably won't be as pleased. Also, the Viper head is prone to getting bumped into with your hands or whatever gets near your head. The Snake eye is definitely more practical.

 

In the box, you'll find just the earphones, simple eartips in 4 sizes and a signal splitter to connect another earphones to one source. That's a nice touch, but a lack of storage case is really baffling on such a product. Ah well.

 

 

 

We learned to not expect much from products intended to shock or awe with their design. Of course on Quarkie's site, you'll find reviews comparing them favorably to Beats, but that's not much indication to go by, is it.

 

But surprisingly, these quirky Quarkie are really good. Might have something to do with the 13.5mm drivers.

 

The overall sound signature is somewhat bassy, but note that I tend to prefer rather bright sound so for most people, Quarkie will be either just fine or maybe even not enough bassy.

 

What I like most about Quarkie is they're just so fun to listen to. They're musical, dynamic, quick and apart from the slightly enhanced lower bass, could be called neutral. The bass is quick, has quite an impact and doesn't bleed at all - it sounds only when it's needed. The midrange is particularly sweet if you like the vocals to be on the softer side. There's plenty of detail, though not as much as on higher-end earphones (which can be distracting somehow, that's why Quarkie is so easy to listen to). Higher frequencies aren't as powerful as I'd like, but very clean, without a hint of sibilance or graininess. One area where I found the earphones lacking is airiness and soundstage - they do sound kinda closed down, especially compared with better models. For some reason I found the Viper Head to be a tad more airy, but that might be just sample variance. I believe they're supposed to sound identical.

 

Note these definitely benefit from a more powerful source or an amp. A weeny mp3 player isn't exactly the right match.

 

Some comparisons:

 

1) to Meelec CW31. These cheap wooden beauties are one of my favorite budget earphones and I like to listen to some particular music over them, but Quarkie destroys them so badly it's not funny. CW31 sounds grainy and like from a dumpster in comparison. No contest really.

2) to Hifiman RE0. This is definitely a better match. RE0 is somewhat darker and not as refined as Quarkie. On one hand there's less bass, on the other hand it tends to bleed more and isn't as fast and precise. The detail tends to grab attention, but it also calls attention to the graininess. Overall Quarkie wins, though not by a huge margin.

3) to Sony MH1. Okay frankly I don't know what's the deal with these things. They definitely have some quality to them, but they're massively overbassed and sound metallic. Still, before I get a headache from listening to MH1, okay I guess they have some tiny advantages over Quarkie in terms of soundstage but overall I prefer Quarkie a lot.

4) to Rock It R-50. Totally different beats. Yes, I prefer R-50 because they're brighter, sharper, more detailed. It's a different category. But there's music which just sounds better with Quarkie (think Daft Punk for example, but pretty much everything which calls for more bass), in particular on some sources which R-50 doesn't like (such as Creative X-Fi HD USB. Don't try that).

5) to Shure SRH940. Ha, kiddin'. No really, apart from different form factor, they actually sound quite similar to my ears. Shure has a bit less bas but not by much.

 

Even at 89 eur list price with free shipping, Quarkie isn't that much overpriced in terms of sound alone. They're also available for 30 GBP on eBay or 60 USD on Amazon (+ shipping) and for this price, I think they're actually really good.

 

If you're Dracula.

 

Disclosure/disclaimer: Both of these earphones were free review samples provided by Quarkie. I asked them because I like to try unusual products. How I hear or like them doesn't guarantee you'll feel the same.


Edited by PMAP - 1/11/13 at 8:18pm
post #2 of 6
Thread Starter 

reserved

post #3 of 6
What a crazy concept! I'm sure the ravers will be interested, I'm not sure they'd be for me though. tongue_smile.gif Reminds of those other IEM's that light up to the beat of the music. I wonder what sort of consumer they were pointed at.
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by H20Fidelity View Post

What a crazy concept! I'm sure the ravers will be interested, I'm not sure they'd be for me though. tongue_smile.gif Reminds of those other IEM's that light up to the beat of the music. I wonder what sort of consumer they were pointed at.

 

If you'd remember what brand or model that was I'd sure like to see that! etysmile.gif

 

Crazy concept indeed but I like the snake eyes. Not sure what I'm gonna do when winter passes and I won't wear a hat outside though.

post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by PMAP View Post

If you'd remember what brand or model that was I'd sure like to see that! etysmile.gif

Crazy concept indeed but I like the snake eyes. Not sure what I'm gonna do when winter passes and I won't wear a hat outside though.

If I was still trendy those snake eye's either in purple or blue wink.gif

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg1Aa7cqfkE
post #6 of 6
It seems that Quarkie are out of business. The US website is still up but the original UK company quarkie.com is offline and the products here in UK are being offloaded on ebay at prices as low as £9.99 (aprox. $17 US or €12).

I was tempted/intrigued/three sheets to the wind and bought a pair of the "Rusty Bolt" model for £9.99 (free delivery) from zavvi.com's ebay outlet. They arrived this morning so I can't say anything at all about durability but I've been listening with them for the equivalent of a working day and they are actually very decent earphones. I'm not sure how I would feel if I had paid the original retail price of aprox. $100 US (I think they have now dropped to about $60 in US and in UK on amazon are between £20 and £30) - I suppose not cheated or disappointed, but also not excited. For about £10 though I am pretty damn pleased with everything except the odd styling. I will not be wearing these outdoors in daylight while sober.

The marketing copy claims "British studio monitor sound quality". Hmm. I will give them credit for having an extremely good midrange. It is not recessed: voices and unamplified instruments do sound natural and appealing and are not overwhelmed by bass as is usually the case with popular budget or midrange IEMs. There is more bass than you would expect in a product claiming "studio monitor" sound but it is very nicely done, doesn't kill the midrange and is actually very appropriate for an IEM that is aiming for isolation. The higher frequencies are decent, even good, and only very slightly lack that sparkle that can make you forget you're using isolating in-ear 'phones. There is absolutely no sibilance or harshness.

I expect these good qualities are not down to extraordinary engineering, design, materials or manufacture but are in fact the result of using a reasonable quality and quite large driver (for an IEM) of 13.5 mm while achieving very good isolation. I've used other earphones with similar sized drivers but these Quarkie ones do seem to be above average, or perhaps it's due to generous amounts of baffling packed into them (it does seem to be a packed wad of foam or filler and not the usual glued on mesh or grille).

Aside from the odd appearance and the impossibility of using these while sleeping or resting one's head I would say these are easily preferable to my venerable Sennheiser CX95 and are maybe up there with junior Shures and are a bit more engaging and listenable than your average single balanced armature and easily preferable to the typical dynamic fashionista boom boom bass monster. The appearance and shape is explanation enough for the company's disappearance but if you can live with that (or those around you can live with that) then these are an excellent bargain.
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