So first of all, a little backround on me. I am not a reviewer, nor do I have any aspirations on being one. I simply write this review to highlight this product because I think it deserves attention and also because it is a way of giving back to the community. I am more of a silent on-looker than a participator in forums, partly because of me browsing on mobile which makes it tedious to write long messages and partly because I am a man of few words. A habit I now break.
In my opinion, a great number of audio equipment reviews get caught up in flowery poetry in order to describe sound. This makes every iem/headphone sound great in some way and becomes an affirmation of a product the reader already owns or is set on owning.
On the other hand, you have those that seem to be an unboxing with a side-order of "It sounds good out of my phone and the soundstage was wider on my amp, all in all it's great!"
My intention will be to try and hit a middle ground: It's a product (objective), yet it reproduces art (subjective). Let's hope I succeed.
In order to read this review, you need to understand that I am not objective as far as sound goes, not in the least. Math and science is objective but "I am not a number, I am a free man!" So, my preferences will shape my opinions, and here they are: I listen to metal 80% of the time, 10% old progressive rock (Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes tec.) and the rest is a mix of reggae, female vocals and electronic. I listen at semi-loud levels and I prefer warm sounding gear with big bass, mids must be present for guitar and vocals and I like my highs to be airy and a bit recessed or at least without any harshness or peaks.
There, I just described my ideal iem. You needed to know, otherwise the review would have no context. So, with that in mind, let's at long last get to the review...
IMR R1 -Overview
The IMR-R1 is a creation of Bob, formerly of Trinity Audio. There has been some controversy surrounding his former place of work, but this has nothing to do with his new firm. Also, I don't own any TA iems so I'd rather not get into it or comment on it.
This is supposed to be the iem he "always wanted to make". Releasing at 500£, the equivalent of 710$ for those over the pond, it is firmly taking a place in the mid-tier category price wise. I however, paid 300£/450$ for a B-stock. I will get into the differences later but let us have look at the specs first:
- 13mm driver featuring Neodymium motors with beryllium diaphragm + Ceramic driver
- IMR Open and close porting system
- 5 Audio filters
- 2 Pin detachable cables (3.5mm TRS and 2.5mm TRRS balanced) Impedance: 32 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 108 +/- 3DB
- Frequency response: 14 - 40000Hz
- 24ct Gold plated 3.5mm Jack
- 1.4M length OFC cable
- Hard Case
- 6.5mm Adapter
- Huge selection of ear tips for the perfect fit
As you can see it is a pretty significant package, well designed box yada yada, everything is good and feels like a premium product. As I said before I have a B-stock, which means that I don't get a balanced cable and that there might be some minor imperfections. Luckily, I have found none.
Five different filters and the option to close/open the port for more air gives one great customizability as to the sound that suits your individual tastes. The filters have each been tuned for a specific sound-signature but to be perfectly blunt: no point in getting an iem with dynamic drivers unless you plan on getting your bass on! And fret not; these can seriously kick!
Now I will primarily be focusing on the bassier two filters, the Black (standard) and the Copper (moar bass). I will not go through all five filters because this review would be too damn long! All listening is done on Sony WM1Z and Samsung Note 8 single ended unless otherwise stated.
Let's get the cable out of the way first, this is a weird one.
The quality of the cable is good, thick enough so that it shouldn't fail in the near future and when/if it does, it is replaceable. I had a little bit of difficulty with the left part of it because it wouldn't stay behind my ear. It seems to have to have sorted itself out now, so not a problem anymore.
What makes it a weird one is the connections on the earpieces. What the hell is going on here? You pull em out and think "ah, standard 2-pin connection" but no! Upon closer inspection there are several factors that make these a PITA and the worst part is, it could have been avoided so easily. The female end on the earpiece is turned around 90 degrees, which means that the pins on the cable have to line up horizontally instead of vertically as in EVERY OTHER IEM!!! Why?!? No, seriously why? What this means is that if you have a cable or buy a cable you must make sure that it does NOT have ear hooks or is shaped in any ordinary way. Also, connectors must NOT be angled. This is of course not a problem if you just stick to the standard cable in the bundle. Luckily the sound makes up for these shortcomings.
Mmmmm dynamic bass. These are the epitome of dynamic drivers bass wise. They kick with such authority that you unconsciously draw your lips back in a smile, showing of your rattling teeth to anybody looking. First off, these go low, 30-50hz is nicely heard and felt. The rumble is heavenly and just lies in the background of the track if it is mastered to include it, giving the music a nice warm foundation to build upon. From there, 60-100 is the main emphasis with the two filters I use and let me tell you: feels great! The impact is felt, and it gives life to rock and metal, just makes it sound like you are listening to the band live or on speakers. The drums sound like wardrums and just makes you nod your head while the bass guitar around 100hz and onwards pounds away just reorganizing the insides of your skull. Now granted, all this sounds like they are in severe basshead category...and they are, bass is definitely enhanced with the black and copper filters. The thing is though, in my opinion the bass is tight and non-intrusive (black filter) to the midrange. It does color the sound though, this is a warm iem. Warm yes, but not veiled or dark.
With the copper filter it does get a little dark, I wouldn't exactly say veiled but warmer and darker. Also, bass is less impactful and more analog sounding, a bit looser and midbass focused.
Now with all that bass talk you would think that the mids would be taking refuge behind it and that the IMR-R1 is yet another V-shaped pretender. Not so. With the black filters this iem is a kind of W-shaped signature meaning there is an equal distribution across the frequencies without it being balanced or reference. That being said, bass is still the frequency that has most quality and quantity, however it does not mask the mids. The mids are still very present and clear, actually surprisingly so. Clear as a winters day with the sun shining, the bass ads a hint of warmth to the mids but does no veil them.
Guitars are exceptionally crunchy, adding great life to all kinds of rock. Horn instruments also sound amazing. Vocals come through with good detail, better than average but there is nothing romantic about them. I cannot discern any difference quality-wise between male and female vocals. They do have a decent amount of air to them. The most exceptional part of the mids for me personally is this: even eq'ed, sub-bass and midbass up 30hz + 4.5 dB / 62hz +3 dB / 125hz +1 dB the mids come through clear and detailed without any lack of details. And without the drivers sounding "stressed" or strained. What I can't figure out is if this is the mids doing a good job or the bass? Either way it doesn't really matter; great stuff!
Tl;dr Very Good
Alright, so the highs are the weakest part of this iem –at least with the filters I prefer. I am not sure why dynamic drivers that have a great quantity of bass, usually have a hard time with treble. I have noticed this with the CA Vega as well, it seems in order to have a single dd deliver hard hitting bass the treble also becomes hard hitting, which is not what most people, myself included, prefer.
The highs have a good presence here, they do a fine job of letting themselves be heard through the rest of the sound spectrum. Even in complex passages they are not masked by bass or mids, but the detail is simply not there. There is, to my ears, a greater emphasis on lower treble, -cymbals crash with authority and provide awesome energy. When moving up the ladder frequency–wise the treble lacks air and extension with the black and copper filters, with the copper filter the treble becomes significantly softer and easier on the ears. Even so, the treble is not fatiguing to my ears when driven by the WM1Z, but on my phone the treble can be a bit tizzy (tst tst) with some harshness. This is with the black filters, I have not gone through all five on the phone, so experimentation can be done but, in my opinion trebleheads should look elsewhere.
As with other aspects of the IMR-R1 the soundstage is highly customizable. On the back of the two earpieces is a wheel that can be turned towards "O" or "C" as in open or closed. I have found that a ¼ of a turn is the sweet spot for me, sometimes a bit more towards open. This widens the soundstage, giving more air to the whole presentation. Also taking away some harshness from the treble and extension improves. With bass as well, more extension but in turn it does not hit as hard.
It is hard to describe the soundstage when so many factors affect it (filters, the wheel, tips, cable) but generally, with my custom ear tips, original cable and single ended, the soundstage is deeper than it is wide although width is decent. If you put your fingers lightly on the ports on the back, covering them up and then taking them away you can clearly hear how the soundscape spreads out from the box-sized in your face dimensions, into a clearly better separation of instruments and a wider presentation.
How much you turn the wheel obviously affects isolation from the outside, so again it is crucial to find one own's sweet spot.
Tl;dr Very Good
Before we reach the end of the review I would like to throw in some short comparisons, the keyword here being short. It is important to note that these comparisons are a bit unfair as I cannot listen to R1 is balanced which makes them less valid than I would like. Thanks, weird cable connectors!
Compared to the Campfire Audio Vega, the IMR R1 is somewhat similar in many regards. Both sport a metal housing with an industrial design. The R1 is in my opinion hampered looks-wise by the customizability factor and the Vega wins here, by have having a cleaner design. Fit wise it is a toss-up. I had my custom tips made for the Vega (thanks Custom Art) and now use 'em on the R1 so yeah, fit is too personal to rate. Quality also seems about equal.
Sound: compared to the Vega the R1 has greater quantity of bass (black filter) and I want to say better quality as well. Hits harder because it has a bit more midbass and has greater potential for eq, maybe because of the size difference (13mm vs. 9mm). This in turn makes the R1 warmer than the Vega. Mids are better on the R1, I found the Vega to be harsh in the upper mids making female vocals sound strained and adding sibilance to some records. Details seem equal. Treble is similar in tonality, but Vega has the better extension. Soundstage wise the Vega has better separation and depth but not as wide.
Oldie but goodie. These two iems are actually nothing alike, apart from them being considered bass monsters. My ASGs are custom; so fit, build and so on are not comparable.
Sound: Bass on the R1 hits harder, cleaner and deeper. The 2.5 has a lot more midbass and it colors the whole presentation, making it warmer and more mellow. Mids on the 2.5 are veiled and lack detail comparably, a lot more recessed. The treble is more present on the R1, sharper and less airy. The 2.5 has a softer and more extended treble, though you have to look for it as it is not "in your face". Soundstage goes to the 2.5, it is simply outstanding, more like a headphone than an iem, very holographic. Weird, given the bump in midbass but there you go.
As you can tell, I am pretty stoked about the IMR-R1. This is not the most natural or realistic iem out there. However, it does a great job at presenting music in a fashion that I find entertaining and moving. There is no doubt in my mind that if you are looking for a capable universal iem with an ability to rock your socks off, you should look no further. It might not be sophisticated or a reference monitor, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make me smile and enjoy my music to an extend that I have not experienced in a very long time.