QUAD ERA-1 Headphone Review Page 2

The setup

I got around with the ERA-1 when it came to head-amps, shuttling between the natural fit of the QUAD PA-One+ ($1,299 USD) to a Naim DAC-V1 ($2,595 USD), my iPhone 7 Plus, an Astell & Kern SR15 ($699 USD) and my McIntosh C2600 tubed-preamplifier’s HXD headphone output ($6,999 USD). I used the QUAD and Naim for streaming digital files through a Roon Nucleus+ and the McIntosh for vinyl listening. For critical, review-listening notes I paired the ERA-1 with the PA-One+, except for the Beck album for which I used the C2600.

Listening

Barre Phillips’s 1968 recordings of solo bass improvisations Journal Violone stands as one of the first (if not the first) solo bass records to hit store shelves, and his 1971 tangle with Dave Holland Music From Two Basses (TIDAL, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC) is held up as the first double bass duet improvisation LP. This is an album of superlative close mic’d bass duelling and one-upmanship. The transducer speed and articulation required to do the propulsive nature of the dynamic tonal and harmonic interplay justice needs to be formidable. Translation: all about how fast your speakers can respond – especially on transients. This is an album that elaborates on timbral, tonal and pitch variations with exquisite detail ingrained with every resined-bow slide that Phillips and Holland try to saw through their strings with. Between the arco and the pizzicato (and slapping, smashing and thumping) there is nowhere for the musical conversation between these men to hide in the recording. Through the ERA-1 the album was laid bare with the recorded space around the two bassists creating a huge sound stage in every axis while the two uprights alternated in their crazily-tilted responses to one another (from what you think a bass should sound like to something from a science-fiction horror film soundtrack – and everything in between) and I was held rapt by how well the ERA-1 was able to delineate between each player’s left, pitch-producing hands and their right hands manipulating tone. Weight, heft and air pressure from arm and body movements were conveyed with realism critical to believability in its midrange emphasis.

The Spice of Life, (TIDAL, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC) Marlena Shaw’s second album, features a number of mega-hits for the soul singer, not least of which is her cover of Ashford & Simpson’s “California Soul.” All of two minutes and 59 seconds long, it manages to engender a far more epic feel during listening in its scale and impact thanks to the string arranging efforts of Richard Evans & Charles Stepney. Big, meaty percussive snaps and authoritative strings lay out the framework for a gated-mic orchestral sound stage that has a healthy dose of reverb on not only instruments – piano, sax, trumpet – but also on Shaw’s velvet-smooth and chesty growl that alternately rises in and out of the mix – floating on the updraft of her backup singers accompaniment. On my two-channel system the stage blows out the front wall along with the roof in it’s size. Through the ERA-1 this cut managed to do a commendable job of portraying all that space and kept the brassy sheen of horns along with reasonable mass and weight to piano notes in the lower-mids: Accomplished for any headphone with this recording, but not an effort you hear often at this price point. Throw in the ability of the QUAD to handle the track’s big dynamic swings without sounding like it was running out of steam and this is a budget-friendly planar-magnetic design that swings with the likes of higher-priced offerings from MrSpeakers and Audeze.

There’s nothing like breaking up with a longtime lover to inspire an album. Just ask Beck (nee Bek David Campbell), as his emotionally-charged 2002 LP Sea Change (2009 – Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Remastered, Special Limited Edition, 180-gram, MFSL 2-308), came to life after he and his girlfriend parted ways. “Paper Tiger” opens with a descending drum intro that on many cans sounds rubbery rather than woody, not so with the QUAD. Same goes for Campbell’s vocals in the heavily-layered mix thats awash with string arrangements, synth, twangy guitar chords and solos, snapping bass lines and percussive oomphs punctuated by tambourine smacks. “Guess I’m Doing Fine” features a heavy-footed kick drum to anchor the minor-chord guitar work and I’ve heard it a number of time simply lose definition because it’s down in the lower octaves, not with the ERA-1, which kept the punchy shape of the deepest notes with little bloat or distortion being passed along. This ability to keep things tight on the bottom end while also offering air, space and decay to high piano and harmonica notes without losing grip on that midrange magic I referenced at the beginning of this review showed off how evenly-handed the ERA-1 is with music that demands not only linearty, but speed, definition and articulation of instrument details in the mix.

Comparisons

As I wrote previously when I first received the ERA-1, the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open seemed like a great headphone to compare it to. Dan Clark, the man behind MrSpeakers, “has been at the forefront of planar-magnetic driver design for a number of years and the Aeon Flow is the latest iteration in the Aeon series. It presents a 13-Ohm impedance, features a 94dB/1mw sensitivity, an unpublished frequency response, uses detachable dual-entry cable, has a NiTonal ‘memory metal,’ hinge-free headband design, a 3.5mm and 6.3mmm termination and like the ERA-1 ships with a durable fitted travel case.” Sessions back-and-forth between the two headphones on the QUAD PA-One+, the C2600 and the SR15 revealed that the two designs share more than just the same $799 USD price point. Like the ERA-1, the Flow Open is very comfortable for extended listening sessions, is perhaps a little more sensitive to placement and seal than the ERA-1 due to the pad shape/size and has an overall warm tonal character. It is resolving without tipping into etched and projects drive and power to the midrange and bass without losing any of the air up top I’ve come to enjoy in planar designs. Both do an excellent job with separating instruments and vocals in complex mixes with the Flow presenting a slight haze in the upper-mids compared to the ERA-1. Overall, the two had more in common than not, with the edge for dynamics, bass control and long-term comfort going to the ERA-1.

Conclusion

Tonal and timbral refinement coupled with the ability to translate the emotional tenor of music allowed the ERA-1 to do a convincing job of continuing its QUAD-heritage credentials with a warm, silky-smooth, yet palpable and organic midrange reproduction, adding to that further control and texture at both frequency extremes. Resolution is presented without deferring to the analytical, presenting a wide, deep sound stage with excellent spatial separation and unique imaging from recording-to-recording. Compared to other similar-priced designs the ERA-1 lends itself to not just home use, but portable use as well thanks to its easy-to-drive specs and relatively smaller size when held up to say the likes of the $799 Audeze LCD-2 Classic. The QUAD ERA-1 was InnerFidelity’s 2018 Product Of The Year.

Specifications

  • Type: Planar Diaphragm Headphones
  • Impedance: 20Ω
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB/mW
  • Frequency Response Range: 10 - 40,000Hz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤0.2% (1kHz,100dB)
  • Rated Input Power: 100mW
  • Weight w/o Cable: 420g

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COMMENTS
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.

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