QUAD ERA-1 Headphone Review


Just say the name around most music lovers or audiophiles (sometimes both) and you’re sure to elicit a response.

If it’s the two-channel crew you’ll usually see them get that faraway, dreamy look in their eyes and they’ll wax rhapsodic about the first time they heard a pair of the QUAD ESL-57 electrostatic loudspeakers that the company cemented their place in the annals of hi-fi history with. And even though this is a headphone review, there’s no getting around the comparison to the ’57, because, well… QUAD.

Actually, I am that guy with the dreamy look because it was the ESL-57 that floored me so hard that it jump-started my high-fidelity journey in life. I heard it about 10 years ago at a now defunct hi-fi shop in Victoria, B.C. It was simply one of those sublime moments you want to bring back again and again. The thing is you usually never do and you end up chasing the dragon for the rest of your life in an effort to hear it again – or you just buy a restored pair of ‘57s and be done with it.

Thing is, while ‘57s do so much right, but they don’t do a lot at the extremes of frequency – to be honest, I think midrange magic was coined after QUAD listening sessions in the late ‘50s – which is fine for a lot of music out there, but I like my transducers – whether two-channel or over ear – to be able to reproduce those notes around the lowest and highest octaves with accuracy and not roll-off.

That was what was on my mind when I started this review and the hope was that the midrange magic those ESL-57s were so famous for had made it into QUAD’s new $799 USD ERA-1 planar-magnetic, over-ear headphones – along with a dose of upper and lower frequency extension. There’s no lack of great-sounding open-backed ‘phones in this price range, but they all take very different approaches to hanging those transducers off your head. The design QUAD went with the ERA-1 boasts a 94dB sensitivity +/-3dB/Vrms rating, a 10Hz~40kHz frequency response, 20-Ohm impedance (+/-15 per cent (@1kHz), and a listed <2dB (@100-5Hz) channel balance, so on paper these cans seem to like delving into treble and bass as much as midrange.

Build and design

Arriving in a semi-hard, fitted carry case the ERA-1 ships with a detachable two-meter cable (3.5mm jack and 6.3mm adapter included) two sets of ear pads (one genuine sheepskin, one synthetic leather) and a rock-solid, yet light-in-the-hand feel to them (420 grams). From the hand to the head, the ERA-1 fit is what I’d describe as an even, lightly-snug fit without noticeable pressure spots across the crown and excellent weight distribution which contributed to longer listening sessions. Extended use didn’t have me spiked by any singular pressure points and I chose to do my listening with the sheepskin pads as they gave a better seal around my ears, had a more pleasing tonal coloration and portrayed lower notes with more weight if ever-so-slightly less articulation. YMMV.

The supplied cord boasts a tightly-knit cloth weave which I found to be resistant to binding and bunching with a natural tendency to uncoil and straighten – great for not getting tangled up during listening sessions on both the sofa or while out with a DAP.

The ERA-1 yolk and slider-click mechanism for fitment has a satisfying ‘clunk’ to every notch of the headband and is robust – as is the entire chassis assembly which is a close-tolerance mix of black/grey/silver alloy and plastic in a chunky, but graceful design that while definitely more future than retro looking, manages to balance both really nicely. Little details in the construction of them, like the micro-mesh grille work that separates the louvres from the yolk connector around the circumference of the driver housing, show the attention to detail in not only aesthetics, but implementation of the driver designs sonic requirements. The drivers consist of what QUAD describes as “cutting-edge planar-magnetic technology… with an electrically-active diaphragm – thinner than a human hair … weighing less than the volume of air it displaces … fused with a precisely-arranged magnet system.” This sounds similar to every other PM-design I’ve encountered, as a magnet-array is crucial to planar-magnetic implementation (A thin diaphragm sandwiched between a pair of stators which converts electric current to a magnetic field for excitation of the diaphragm, thus air is moved and you have a sound wave).

QUAD is also utilizing what it describes as a “patented nonlinear vibration suppression technology… [for] extended frequency response” with a scooped-out cavity section within the rear of the driver housing aiding in performance. Which I can only surmise means that it assists with waveform reflections and/or loading and helps in achieving a higher efficiency rating.


edstrelow's picture

I suspect this suppression has to do with eliminating vibrations in the headphone frame/earcups, arising from the driver action. Think Newton - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, i.e. as much energy is going into the frame as it going out into the air. Other companies are already doing this with various materials, Sennheiser has been using some kind of rubbery material in the headband of its TOL dynamics for several years, something hardly noted by reviewers who seem unaware that there is even a need for such damping. Grado has released its new line of phones with a patented polycarbonite material which it contends has damping properties. I myself have been using sorbothane on my various Stax phones for a few years with great results.

JML's picture

This is the only headphone I've ever tried that was much too large to wear, even at the smallest setting. I've read other reviews where this sizing problem was noted. I have an average-sized head for a male (ego notwithstanding). So beware!