Thanks to Torque for supplying the review sample.
It's a safe generalization to state: On Head Fi people are interested in great sound, great gear and maximizing sonic enjoyment. Torque's t103z is an earphone that should resonate with the community. This is a prosumer device with an easily adjustable mechanical EQ (the Torque Valves). To date there are six, three of them brand new, offering a variety of different sound signatures for the potential owner.
One of the most common themes among the threads here (if not the most common) is people soliciting advice. They want to know which earphone offers high value for the dollar, great sound quality and often (for those in the know) which has a sound signature that appeals to their specific sonic demographic. We have bass heads, treble heads those looking for neutrality and others looking for warmth. The t103z is a successful approach to satisfying more people by providing increased flexibility making it worth your consideration.
Now lets break things down.
Accessories: A good quality semi-hard case, 3 sets of single flange silicone dual density ear tips (similar to Sony hybrids) and a single set of small dual flange tips. Also included is a shirt clip and last but far from least: the torque valves attached to a metal holder that features a wrench to loosen over tightened valves.
Build quality: I'd call it solid. The 90 degree plug is narrow and sized to fit assorted smart phone cases. The primary cable is a good quality flat linguini style leading up to a 3 button microphone designed for iDevices and taking the place of a Y splitter. The buttons themselves are rubber and click with a nice feel. The metal and plastic driver housings are attached to the microphone via traditional round, thinner cables. Strain reliefs are present where needed and there are no obvious points of weakness.
Aesthetics: Orange, black and silver, the t103z are distinctive and appealing but not too over the top. I like them; my girlfriend thought they look great, a sentiment she didn't share with some of the other earphones sitting on my desk.
Comfort: Better than average. I have smaller ears and canals that are narrow. Consequently I've enjoyed custom fits more than universals. Happily the Torques are physically small, conventionally barrel shaped and include tips I actually found useful. This is a ridiculously subjective category but there's nothing unusual about the t013z that would prevent most ears from achieving a good level of comfort.
Isolation: Average and fit/tip dependent. It's good but not on the level of Etymotics, Shures or customs. It's possible things might be improved by the use of Shure Olives or Comply foam but I currently have neither here to test.
Microphonics: A little worse than average. Because of the microphone design the tz103 can't be worn over the ears, the flat cable doesn't transfer noise but the two traditional round cables connecting to the earpieces definitely do. Torque might want to reconsider this choice in the future and opt for a thinner version of the flatter less microphonic cable connected to the housings.
Sources and Amping: The t103z sounds good straight out of a Clip Zip. It scales up in quality using the iBasso DX50 and sounds better still out of the HRT Microstreamer but the differences weren't extreme. I got good sound out of all three sources and don't believe this earphone is difficult to drive.
The Sound: This is where the Torques diverge from typical earphones. You decide your favoured sound by screwing on a valve (each marked by individual colour). The differences between valves are often dramatic. Having said that there are a few truisms about the t103z that can be shared. The sound stage is average in size but very cohesive. It has a tendency towards clarity in the mids (voices are notably clear), a tight punchy bass with emphasis on the midbass and (with some valves) an edgy treble.
Red - Reference Valve: This seemed like the natural spot to start, the Red is my 3rd favourite of the six available options. For fans of a 'neutral' signature this is as close as the t103z is going to get. Indeed the sound does feel balanced. To test it out I used assorted music (mostly electronic) and several movies; the latter because modern film soundtracks are complex and layered with a lot of dynamic range. Watching scenes from 'Man of Steel' I was pleased by the impressively clear and natural sounding voices, no dialogue was ever lost in the mix. At the same time when the action ramped up each sound effect was delineated and detailed. Ideally I'd want a little more dynamic range (sub bass) but at the asking price I don't expect it. Highs are a little edgy (treble spikes) but not distracting I liked this valve for watching movies and television shows.
Yellow - Deep Valve: I know the bass heads in the audience are scanning this paragraph with intensity. Alas, while this valve imbues the t103z with the largest helping of bass I can't claim this earphone will appeal to the hard core bass lover. Unlike the reference valve you're getting a bump in the mid bass, this does cause a muddiness in the midrange. The treble loses it's edge but the valve doesn't appear to play to the strengths of the earphones's driver. If you're looking to explore extreme sonic depths the t103z isn't your best choice. Personally I didn't enjoy the Yellow.
Black - Clear Valve: Whoa horsey! Bright and tight, the treble head should prick up their ears and pay attention. The treble isn't the most refined I've heard at this price range but it's good and it's all here. Detail retrieval is excellent. If you're the sort who likes it sonically sharp you might want to give this valve a go. Again, not my favourite but I'm also someone who hasn't enjoyed the sound of a TWFK BA driver while I know a lot of people do. It's also true that this valve doesn't play to the strengths of my chosen music genres. Someone who likes Jazz would likely find this more to their tastes.
Now the fun part, the shiny new valves soon to be available for your consumption. Interestingly these sound signatures seem more refined.
Green - Balance Valve: My 2nd favourite and a well implemented version of the very popular U/V shaped sound signature so popular in many of today's modern IEMs. Bass is very tight, mids are slightly recessed but never get lost or muddy and highs are clear and sharp without being as edgy as the Red valve. Alexandra Stan's 'All my People' has 'oomph', the male vocals are deep and textured while her voice is clear and complimented by a full bass. The song sounds 'big'. Markus Schulz' 'Tempted' is equally full and pleasingly melodic. A great choice for EDM.
Purple - Bliss Valve: Before I received the t103z this was the valve I was most excited about. As a self professed lover of vocal trance and Celtic folk I was happy to learn I'd be auditioning a valve with a focus on the mids. Surprisingly Purple disappoints. The cost of highlighting the mids is a precipitous roll off of both treble and bass. Listening to music I feel as if I'm missing too much to truly enjoy the songs. You won't hear delineated treble with this valve and you won't get a defined bass thump. I think I'd enjoy this signature far more if it has been realized in a gentler fashion. For those who are patient and ready to push the volume (and amping) this valve could have value for a capella or folk music.
Blue - Smooth Valve: Hello number 1! For me Blue maximizes the strengths of Torque's chosen driver. The treble spikes are tamed and the mids are clear (tiny bass bleed) while the bass is big and mostly stays where it should. This is the warmest of the t103z's signatures. During the course of this review I found myself constantly defaulting to Blue for music. As with Purple you're getting a slightly more relaxed sound but here it's not neutered and you're not losing important frequencies. If you've bought the t103z and you haven't heard Blue I think you're doing yourself a disservice.
There you have it, one earphone 6 sonic flavours (with possibly more to come). You've read my take on what's available but we all have different tastes in sound signatures just as we do in music. Maybe you'll prefer Black to Blue, maybe someone else will love Purple or Red. Either way who doesn't like options?
Buy these if you want: An adjustable sound signature you can change to suit your tastes.
Great clarity in the mids.
A brighter (on average) sound signature.
An iDevice compatible microphone.
Avoid these if you want: The deepest bass for your dollar.
A truly dark sound.
Edited by Deviltooth - 11/24/13 at 11:05am