ORA Sound GrapheneQ Wireless Headphone Review

ORA Sound may be familiar to you from enormously successful Kickstarter and IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaigns. The headphones are claimed to have the highest Graphene-content driver in the world, an interesting feat because my understanding of most Graphene driver material is that they use a Graphene coating rather than a mostly Graphene driver.

ORA lists the benefits of their 40mm driver as being much easier to form and less expensive to manufacture than plain old Graphene – a technology they have dubbed ‘GrapheneQ’ which I suspect means it has been blended with something that makes it a bit easier to work with and thus brings down cost.

I’ll be blunt though, however cool the technology, this is unabashedly a mainstream headphone, the marketing, Kickstarter and testimonial sections are all aimed very squarely at the mainstream headphone tech enthusiast. The headphones themselves are even Qualcomm aptX HD and AAC Bluetooth capable, with an optional auxiliary plug included. In fact, the GrapheneQ is pretty fully loaded with sophisticated features. They also have a USB-C port for charging, and gestures controls built into the right ear cup.

Design and build

From a design standpoint the functionality is very streamlined and easy to figure out. The gesture controls on the ear cup work reasonably well, and the single button on the left ear cup is pretty straightforward, a brief glance at the manual wasn’t even required. This really was one of the simplest wireless headphones I’ve used, and the two big reasons are because it does not use ANC 9Active Noise Control) or overreach itself with a complex feature set. What’s there is elegantly designed, no more complex or basic than it needs to be, and it just works. The gesture controls and Bluetooth pairing were particularly painless, an area where many audiophile-oriented brands seem to stumble a bit.

ORA’s website also makes specific mention of the isolation of these headphones being a reason they do not require ANC. Often, I find passive isolation a tradeoff between clamp and comfort, but in this case the GrapheneQ didn’t feel unduly tight, yet did indeed have better isolation than even many audiophile headphones. Pads were supple and plush and the headband was nicely padded, making for a solid comfort experience overall. My one nitpick was that I would have liked a few more notches of extension on the headband, I have a big head and one or two degrees more extension would have made things a little bit easier.

In terms of build quality that’s about all there is to say. From a technological standpoint there’s a plethora of information on GrapheneQ’s website, much of which is a bit vague and uses very pretty, though not particularly informative graphics. I did think it was quite nice that they posted the frequency response of their headphones, though the scale and smoothing is high and the website does not mention which compensation is used. Nevertheless I applaud ORA for this, as it does at least give a nod to audiophiles. Speaking of, let’s get down to the sound.

Listening

I’ll start by saying the GrapheneQ doesn’t sound like any other headphone I’ve ever heard. When I first put them, connected via Bluetooth on my phone, with Qobuz as a source, I was puzzled. “They almost sound DSP’d,” one of my good friends commented. We plugged them into an amp just to be sure it wasn’t the Bluetooth. Same sound. Now, I think this is very interesting, and I’ll comment on frequency response in just moment, but this is one of the few times where the frequency response of the headphone didn’t catch my attention first. I would describe what I heard as far and away the highest damping factor I’ve ever heard in a headphone driver. Whether that’s the case or not, that was my perception.

Sounds seemed to emanate from an almost vacuum-sealed space: lightning fast and liquid smooth. The treble was not dark or low in level, but there was almost an inky blackness to the sound, and there was an almost total lack of overhang or excess decay even down into the lowest reaches of the bass. I’ve experienced this kind of sound with Magico, YG Acoustics and other very high-end speakers that use carbon or Graphene-coated drivers in all-aluminum, or composite cabinets; an almost artificially tight sound. However, the GrapheneQ wasn’t at all synthetic sounding. It didn’t have the warmth and organic, rich harmonic breakup profile of the ZMF Verite’s I just reviewed, it almost seemed to just not have a distortion profile at all. When plugged into a decent amp the headphone pulled up fairly impressive levels of detail I’ve only heard bested by more expensive headphones.

The tonal and harmonic profile of the headphone registered as neither overly warm/rich nor cold or synthetic, it simply seemed to lack a characteristic harmonic-distortion profile. When pushed extremely hard it also never gave up, and the breakup characteristic, as far as I could detect, was only remarkable for it’s absence of harshness. It certainly didn’t sound like paper, but it also didn’t sound like metal – think smooth and featureless.

Going back to the frequency response, I found it largely excellent, there’s a fairly broad dip centered around 6kHz, which I suspect is to make well sure the headphone doesn’t stray into bright or harsh territory. The level of detail felt sufficient that I wasn’t bothered by this, I suspect it also added to the super tight, ever so slightly ‘dark’ impression I got from them. That said, I certainly didn’t miss any treble detail with these, so I can’t complain too much. Other than that, bass was tidy and good in level, with a little extra oomph in the sub-bass that I’m not used to from dynamic drivers. There was a small dip in the middle midrange, that registered as a slight suckout on some very busy music, but mostly it gave a little extra clarity to classical and modern pop records. Other than the 6kHz dip I mentioned in the treble, everything felt remarkably even and smooth, it had that ‘just right’ Goldilocks treble tuning that seemed to make the ‘tuning’ disappear, replaced with a sound that resembles instruments and space more than a driver replicating them.

Conclusions

For the $299 USD asking price (they will probably be going up slightly in price when they hit MSRP), these are stellar headphones. They have a solid feature set, sound great and feel comfortable on the head. I don’t usually think ‘punching above their weight’ is a useful description of price point, in my opinion it’s a term that’s often lazily thrown around to describe a product that offers good value and is well designed to a meet a desired MSRP. However, I think that in this case the GrapheneQ really does punch above its weight, and I’ll happily recommended it for both audiophiles and mainstream consumers alike as an excellent-sounding headphone. If the driver is responsible for the sound qualities I heard, I’m really looking forward to seeing what ORA or their partners do with it going forward.

COMPANY INFO
ORA Sound

COMMENTS
Simply Nobody's picture

So, the punchline is, 'they punch above their weight' :-) ......

Simply Nobody's picture

Question to Grover Neville ...... Do you hear any differences between Bluetooth, low-res, CD-res and Hi-res? ....... If you do, what differences are they? ....... Of course, it is with headphones, but also with loudspeakers, if you also use the loudspeakers ...... May be you (Grover) could write an article about it ..... Since you (Grover) are a 'millennial', your opinion matters :-) .......

Smitty919's picture

My buddy has these and I just tried them out a few days ago and love them. They sound amazing!

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