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.
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