(caution: this is a long review (I know this because I just typed it out in Word and it spanned 7 pages!)
I think this is a long awaited review of the 1Plus2s. I've had the stock cable for some time, but of late, I've had the new upgrade cable. I've had them for little over a week now (two weeks now since I've finished this), and the demo period is almost up. So in that sense, I think I've given both the cables and the IEMs enough time to set in. And on that note, it will be very important for me to state that this review will be long as I do intend to cover several bases all at once. But let me start off going a little off-tangent so to speak.
I'm going to try and use as little technical jargon as I can and attempt to use as many lay-man terms as possible. I will try my best to explain what I mean whenever I refer to anything "technical" because we all interpret terms differently. And in the event any of you don't understand, or wish to clarify my position, or anything that I say here, please feel free to do so. In addition to this, you won't see me going too deep into audio technicalities. I've never been one for that mainly because music to me is meant to be enjoyed and I derive little to no pleasure in delving too deep into things.
This review will be based solely on my own opinion, my experience and any parallels or comparisons I draw (if any) are done not to do a price-value comparison, but merely as a reference point for each of you reading (if it helps). To expand on this a little more, if I describe something in a particular way in respect of an IEM I draw a comparison with and that you've had experience with, you'll know what to expect, whether you agree with my opinion or not. And in that sense, it gives you (the reader), in my opinion, a more reasonable or objective view to qualify what I'm attempting to describe or explain.
On top of that, I think it is also important to bear in mind the law of diminishing returns in respect to audio equipment. So let me first please put out a cautionary note that I believe that whilst for some, the appreciable difference between an IEM that costs 250 USD and an IEM that costs 1,000 USD is stark in contrast, it may not be the same for others. I can appreciate the difference, but I do feel that when it comes to talking about whether the value difference of 750 - 1,000 USD is merited, that really is subjective. In general, I would tend to say that the difference is not as stark as the price point suggests. Then to further capitalise on something more "hi-end", you need to think about better cables, better DAPs etc. It really becomes "stupidly" expensive unless your wallet is able to sustain the mind bogglingly crazy expensive hobby.
And the next biggest caveat to all this is…we all hear things differently and in addition to that, we also have different music preferences. At the end of the day, all that is important is that we enjoy and like what we hear (no matter the price point of the item).
Now with all that aside, time to get into the review!
There are very few tips provided, mainly the ortofon along with a set of comply tips. Considering the price we pay to get the 1Plus2, one can't help but feel a few more tips could have been thrown into the equation. But here's a picture with the stock tips and the 1Plus2:
I've never been a fan of foam tips because I feel they mess around with the sound far too much. Not to mention the need to replace them after a period of time. So no, they are not for me at all. But that being said, I think the 1Plus2 can be mucked around with a fair bit to figure out what sound you'd like out of them. I think the stock tips provide the best bass response for example whereas V-Moda tips seemed to trip the bass. Heir tips are too big for me. I could break them in further, but it'd be pretty pointless going through the discomfort of it all. And finally, there were some other tips I used that covered too much of the sound bores that it just sounded odd.
So all in all, after all the tip-rolling I did, the stock ortofon tips are still the tips I use.
I think the shell is fine. But the print on the shell for example, just seems like it'll come off pretty easily if anything were to happen. Nitpicking 101.
The cable and the cable connector to the shell just seemed so make shift, so "hand-made" (which it is), but just seems a little odd at that price point. Then there is the issue of ergonomics. The stock silver is unfortunately poor in this regard, it is both "big" and at the same time, tough to manage. Because of the weight of the cable, I found myself having issues with the seal of my IEM far too often. Another reason why I prefer custom IEMs.
I think I'm a little spoiled by the IE8 cables. Maybe high end products should all come with the same coating as that on the IE8 because they just feel fantastic and are built to last, not to mention that there are no rough finishes unlike the stock silver on the 1Plus2 which just feels unpolished in its make. The new upgrade cable improves on all this though, but microphonics from both the stock silver and the new upgrade cable leave a lot to be desired. It just makes me wonder what in the world goes on with cable making from different companies.
If there was something that Tralucent could improve on, it would be their finishing of their products so they don't look as "raw". That being said, as I've mentioned to some others, I'd much rather companies throw everything into sound quality than into their design and marketing whilst forgoing sound quality, unlike some other top tier companies.
So onto the sound. Let's think a little about accuracy. When I read about people talk about accuracy, they talk about how well the instrument is placed, or how well the instrument is reproduced sonically. I'm from the latter camp. But at the same time, there are plenty of pitfalls in this, and none more so than the fact that instruments on their own have different sounds e.g. a Taylor acoustic guitar can sound very different from any other brand/type of guitar (and no, I'm not talking about a classical guitar), or different brands of drum cymbals e.g. Zildjian and Sabian (not to mention differences between the make of the cymbal i.e. cast or sheet cymbals).
I'm not a musician, nor do I have extensive knowledge of either. But I did feel the need to talk about this because too often is one earphone touted to be better than another etc in terms of accuracy, but yet at the same time, there is nothing to compare it against, nor do we even know of the reviewer's background in audio and instruments. For me though, the instrument that I'll focus on, as with most of my music involves beats, but for instrument accuracy, I'll turn to drums (with the little experience I have with them). The track I used for this was Liquid Tension Experiment's - Acid Rain.
The main reason I did this was because it was the one time I've actually been able to accurately place where exactly on the hi-hat that the drummer is hitting. That's where I think accuracy comes in. It is one thing to be able to detail the drum being hit and another step further to be able to tell the listener precisely where the drum is being hit. What this means is that whilst the casual listener may not appreciate this, the one who analyses or mixes music, or one who listens for little nuances will be able to further enhance their listening experience (my opinion). Contrast this to having heard the Heir 4.Ai recently where the drums, the bass kick, just sounded off. Instead of hearing solid impact, it felt like someone just hit something with an inflexible material on top, but totally hollow underneath. It was static and fake.
The next track I used was Jay Chou's - Fa Ru Xue and this was used to listen to the traditional Chinese instrument in the track, the Gu-Zheng. The texture of the Gu-Zheng itself in the track was both distinct and clear to the ears. This is an instrument that is plucked at times somewhat like a bass guitar, but complicated in a different way. To be able to play the rifts and at the same time hear it through the IEMs is quite nice.
3D Imaging and Soundstage
I think the 3D sound for earphones is derived from both imaging and soundstage. Let me explain what I mean by both those terms. Imaging would be in the sense of being able to place an instrument or sound forward/backward i.e. depth. Soundstage would be to be able to place an instrument or sound left/right i.e. width. That's my opinion and that will be where I'm going for this review as well. If you have a different opinion on those two, then just read my review here keeping an open mind. We all have different interpretations on terms after all.
My favourite track to test this is TobyMac's - Me Without You (Capital Kings Remix) and in particular, the intro part of the track. In general, the IE8s have been praised for having good soundstage, but the 1Plus2 in my opinion, are much more impressive in this area. I cannot explain how happy I am whenever I close my eyes and then replay the introduction of this track in my head.
Take the sound I'm hearing as just a sound, just a dot in the grand scheme of things. With the 1Plus2, I'm able to close my eyes, and at the same time, use my eyes to track that dot in almost one full circle. It accurately produces a 3D imaging that is near seamless. Other IEMs I've tried have not been able to reproduce it in quite the same way. Sure, some other IEMs are able to reproduce it but the full circle isn't quite as full. If you take the full circle to be a straight line, other IEMs just don't seem to image the line full i.e. it is like a dotted line so to speak.
I don't think I've quite heard anything that has been able to image near field left/right and far left/right quite so well. It is impressive. There is a sense of space, a sense of depth and a sense of sound staging being expansive all at the same time.
Following and sort of an extension of the previous section, is instrument separation. The tracks I used for this bit are Dave Douglas Quintet's - High on a Mountain, Esperanza Spalding's - Winter Sun and Brian Culbertson's Live From the Inside album in its entirety. There just isn't a part of the music where I feel that the 1Plus2 is struggling or that it is starting to sound convoluted.
This is also however, down to the mastering/mixing/post-production. What I mean by this is that there can be some rubbish mastering and the 1Plus2 isn't going to change any of that. It isn't going to make a badly produced track suddenly sound great. However, what it will do for a well mastered track is to ensure that you are able to enjoy the track far more. I'm careful here by not saying "far more than anything else or any other IEM etc". This is an important caveat because whilst I've heard other custom IEMs or IEMs, I've not been able to spend enough time to analyse them too much etc. And there also comes a point where if you listen to too much gear, if there are some similarities, it becomes almost like an exercise of splitting hairs. Not to mention that memory can mess around with one's listening impressions.
I don't think there has been a track where I've been straining to hear anything. That actually says something. There have been tracks on other IEMs I've used, more recently being the H-200 for example, where whilst the detail was there, it just wasn't brought out as much and as well as the 1Plus2. The 1Plus2 just does it effortlessly.
There are many occasions where people say that they hear something more with a new IEM that they have gotten, something better in theory, but that doesn't mean they will be able to hear it when they are lost in the crowd and public. The 1Plus2 is able to bring it out well enough that it will still be appreciated on the go. That's the difference for me.
Clarity and Transparency
I think I'll cover a bit of this in the cable bit below. But just to be clear, I think for me, the clearest IEM I've ever experienced is from the FitEar 333. This is a notch below. That isn't to say the 1Plus2 isn't clear in any way whatsoever, because it still is. The crispness of the FitEar may have been a little too much for me and the 1Plus2 sits just about right.
If you are someone who has ever owned the IE8 and tried EQ-ing out the "veil" from the sound signature of the IE8, then the 1Plus2 displays no veil whatsoever. I am however hesitant to say that the 1Plus2 is true to the source simply because I don't know what each producer has intended. However, I think to some extent, if I had to say what producers have tried to capture, the 1Plus2 I think produces it. But a little more on that later below.
This is difficult. I think with the stock silver, it leaned a little south of being just right. And with the new upgrade, that got a tad leaner again. Lushness to me is almost a tad like musicality from the music, and perhaps, the "fun" factor. Perhaps.
That being said, the 1Plus2 has quick note decay. For this, let me bring up dance music etc. Or even some funk based modern jazz like Brian Culbertson. Because the note decay and the bass seems a little trimmed on the 1Plus2 upgrade cable (canvassed more below in the cable section), I think the 1Plus2 has lost a little bit of its musicality and makes everything a little more clinical. I think the 1Plus2 takes away a little from the sustain that is thrown into some notes, but that could just down to my preference for a slightly warmer and more lush sound signature, a more enveloping sound so to speak.
Yes, I'm a bass head (sort of). And I think I've covered a fair bit of this as is so I don't think I'll add much to this. See the section just below this for example (in respect of bass bits etc).
That being said, the 1Plus2 has very good control over its bass, it has very good "texturing" over the bass notes as well. There is also no bleeding over of the bass to colour the other notes. Just like instrument separation, this is done very well so there is no worry of any of the bass hiding any of the notes.
That aside, I think some tracks like Daft Punk's - Derezzed and Eminem's - Cinderella Man didn't sound any much better than coming off the IE8s for example (or that may just be purely down to the fact that they are mainstream i.e. no instruments to really let the IEM shine). Cinderella Man needed a fuller and more hard hitting bass that the 1Plus2 didn't exactly seem to deliver. This isn't to say that the 1Plus2 doesn't have bass because it definitely does, and it has sub-bass to spare.
In soundtracks for example, you can feel the air flow through. The Dark Knight Rises OST (Imagine the Fire and Rise) and The Transformers Revenge of The Fallen (Nest and Forest Battle) soundtracks, the 1Plus2 "almost" makes me feel like I'm seated in the movie theatre itself. The rumble in my opinion, could be a little more, but that is asking a lot from an IEM. The atmospheric sound that the 1Plus2 is able to deliver is unlike most IEMs that I've been able to try and at times, I feel myself having goose bumps, just like I'm seated there in the midst of everything and I think that is all I can ask for.
Stock Silver vs. Silver/Gold Upgrade
This is tough. I think the stock silver has been well documented throughout this thread itself, not so much the sonic ability of it, but more so the ergonomics of the cable. Personally, I think Tralucent sold themselves a little short with the cable, even if it is of a very high quality. Here's a couple of pictures of the cables next to each other:
I'm going to take a fair bit from my previous review and statements on the differences I heard on this, so this will be a re-hash. For those who have already read what I've had to say on this, then you may wish to skip this bit.
If I could sum it all up in one sentence, the new upgrade cable has diminished the presence of bass comparatively speaking whilst adding further clarity and this could be due to a combination of a few things: one, a more expansive imaging capability; and secondly, a tightening up of the bass throughout.
Now, I think infamously, I have touted two analogies to explain the differences of the 1Plus2's upgrade cable's bass difference:
- Think of a punch as the bass itself. With the stock cable, it felt like the punch was connecting at full tilt. With the new upgrade cable, the punch feels like it is released halfway, or the person putting the punch through lacks conviction in his punch.
- Think of bookshelf speakers with tweeters. Then think about a sub-woofer being linked up to the speaker setup. The stock silver cable felt like I had a sub-woofer going off whereas with the new upgrade cable, the sub-woofer has been taken out of the equation. To some extent, the rumble I once felt has disappeared.
With the 1Plus2 in its current form, I do feel that the deep bass impact has now disappeared a little. There does seem to be something missing. Whilst I know the sub-bass is there, and that there is "air" moving in the bass. There is no way that I can make this out when I'm on the go. IEMs after all, and portability, go hand in hand. And keeping that in mind, usability on the go is paramount. Users of the IE8/80/800s (not that they are in the same performance bracket) but users of those IEMs would understand how "too much" bass may actually work very well in the public. It helps to drown out the ambient noise whereas with the 1Plus2 upgrade cable, the ambient noise seeps into the music and drowns out the sub-bass.
If you want to have an idea of the difference experienced between switching cables, try different IEMs that you feel give you the same experience on these couple of tracks: Pendulum - The Island Part I (Dawn) and Brian Culbertson - Waiting for You. However, the amount of bass one desires is entirely up to the individual, all things considered.
All that being said though, there is a clear step up from the stock silver to the upgraded silver/gold cable in terms of sound quality. I moved from the IE8s to the 1Plus2s, but that isn't to say I hadn't heard other comparable IEMs and CIEMs between or within similar price brackets. The stock silver on the 1Plus2 sound both clear, transparent but with oodles of bass. The upgrade cable on the 1Plus2 however, made the stock silver sound like I was listening to the IE8s i.e. much more clarity but even more refined bass.
All that aside, my impression has changed a little over time in that I do feel that the newer upgrade cable opened up a little over time and sounded better all round. I still would like the amount of bass the stock silver produces however. Overall though, the new upgrade cable is a clear step up that I'll hang onto, and have to fork out extra, but with the better ergonomics in mind, and the already very high entry price to the 1Plus2, I do feel that the "upgrade" cable should have been the stock cable given all the misgivings over the ergonomics of the stock. Oh, and I wish I had asked for a right-angled connector pin instead of the straight up given as stock!!! I'm always worried that the bending that goes on in the pocket might kill the cables!
Was I a cable believer before all this? Nope. Am I a cable believer now? Yes.
My overall impression of the 1Plus2's sound signature is that it is fairly aggressive whilst at the same time, not fatiguing, though I could understand how it may be so for someone else. That being said, the 1Plus2 lands itself on the north side of fun. It isn't exactly flat out neutral and has itself a flavour of fun, something I feared when I first made the plunge. But, the fear was allayed the moment I heard the 1Plus2. It did everything I wanted improved from the IE8s, not only just improved, but it did so with a big difference. There is a distinct sense of clarity without any loss of detailing whilst maintaining power that the dynamic driver pushes out in the bass department. I sampled some really good IEMs, but the 1Plus2 did it all for me and I can't tell you how happy I was when I heard it.
Coming from the IE8s and being a bit of a bass head, I feared that the 1Plus2 might be too lean for my tastes. With the IE8s, I tended to EQ the bass down whilst at the same time bringing the treble up a notch and taking away the veil. With the 1Plus2, I've refused to EQ the 1Plus2 because it really shouldn't need EQ-ing at this price point, and I haven't done so.
Let me dig up some reference points for this. The k3003 offering from AKG for example, that I feel is more likely to be very reference like, and somewhat "lifeless" and perhaps, true to the source. I say it is true to the source primarily because the flavour of music tends to be added in at the production stage. For me, the k3003 just produces everything without much flavour, or if there was a flavour, it tends to lean on well, being a little bland. Now, this is not a bad thing. It just doesn't suit my tastes.
The 1Plus2 on the other hand, whilst not being "euphoric", has just the right amount of "fun" thrown in. It has my feet tapping constantly, but at the same time, if I wanted to sit down and listen to my jazz and chillout stuff, I would feel right at home with it too. I think the stock silver does every genre competently, from classical and jazz to rock, dance etc. I think the upgrade cable limits itself a little more but still sounds great to me.
Ultimately, the enjoyment one gets out of music is dependent on the individual. I cannot and should never tell you that this will be the perfect fit for you. I could recommend it based on a person's listening preferences, but as I've already noted, we all hear things differently.
What then makes a good IEM? Besides technical efficiency, what matters above all, on a subjective scale, is that the IEM suits both your innate listening preferences whilst taking into account your hearing including any potential deficiencies. All the talk of technicalities is secondary to your personal listening pleasure. You may be listening or using something that isn't "hi-fi" by virtue of its price point, but that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the music you listen to any less than the person next to you with something expensive stuck into their ears.
In my journey which I've noted down in the following thread: Portability? The next step after my IE8s, I've listened to custom IEMs within the same price bracket as the 1Plus2 like the JH series of custom IEMs, EarSonics and the FitEar 333. I've also heard the new flagship universal IEMs like the IE800 and k3003 on my search for my next step with IEMs. I can say that I'm more than happy with my purchase in the end. I know that I could have gone far more in depth with this review, but I hope that this paragraph alone tells you how much I hold the 1Plus2 in comparison to other IEMs that I have tried. It truly is a fantastic IEM and probably does a lot of what I wanted in an IEM, more so than the others I have heard and read about.
In terms of universal IEMs, I think I've found my end game IEM. At least until something else comes up and changes the game again. However, that said, if I ever have the money to own something in the custom range that would rival or match the 1Plus2, I would love to simply because I've always wanted a custom IEM. I wouldn't say the 1Plus2s have been the most comfortable, and the cable issues do get annoying, albeit the significant elimination of it from the recent upgrade cable. But I'm very very happy with the 1Plus2.
With all of that now said and done, I do feel that I could do with a more laid back and less aggressive IEM, but I'm also thinking, after my experience with my IE8s and custom tips, that I'd much rather have custom IEMs at some point. Whether I do so, I don't know. There are far too much budget constraints for me on this, and I probably won't be able to afford one until I hold down a stable job in a couple of years time.
Before I end this review, let me give a quick shout out to Tralucent who have been fantastic to deal with both in terms of responsiveness, friendliness and approachability on any subject matter.
And on that note, it is time for me to end this review and I think it is time for me to really enjoy my IEM now.