Friday, May 22, 2009

Radiopaq Custom Tuned Earphones review

Radiopaq has made big claims over their new range of headphones, which they dub as Custom Tuned Earphones. Costing £59.99 each, the four IEMs are customised to different types of music: Classical, Jazz, Pop and Rock, but will also sound great regardless of whatever genre you throw at each individual headphone. So is the Custom Tuned Earphones a shrewd concept cooked up by marketing of a way getting customers to hand over their money four times, or is Radiopaq really onto something?

Specifications and stuff:

Frequency response: 18 Hz – 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 120 dB
Nominal impedance: 16 ohms
Transducer: 10mm moving coil dynamic
Attenuation: up to 26 dB
Cable length: 1.2 meters
Warranty: 2 years

One thing Radiopaq is right on the money is that different people has different sound preference. What they did is tune the four individual models, through customising the transducer drivers, chamber shapes and bass ports in order to produce the frequency response that their engineers believe would distinguish each versions from each other. This allows for differentiation that offers people with a degree of sound choices, all without the confusing audiophile terminologies.

Unfortunately it also presents the would-be customer with some tough choices. For many £60 is a lot of money to spend on headphones, so getting it right would be important. And what if, like me, a person listens to a wide range of musical genres? No problem says Radiopaq, you will still be able to enjoy other genres with them, even going on to likening their headphones to different sort of cars.

Sadly, until you are able to listen to all four models, there is no way to know which models really suit you. With the Rock version, you get big warm and powerful sound, with plenty of bass and good mid-range. The Pop IEMs offers forward vocals with good clarity and a bit less bass than the Rock version. On the other hand the Jazz model gives you a more balanced sound, with adequate amount of bass impact and sweet vocals. Finally if you prefer Bach to Burt, the Classical version delivers more on the mids and highs with a greater soundstaging, but by sacrificing any sort of bass impact.

It all boils down to personal preference. I personally found the Rock version to be too bassy and the Classical version too flat and dull, but some may just prefer the sound. My classical piano-trained partner offered her opinion on the Classical version as sounding flat and neutral, capable of capturing every nuance of a good classical recording. The Jazz version is sweet sounding, which I find perfect for listening to tons of indie pop and twee, where as I use the Pop version for good amount of trance and electronica, as they provide just about the right amount of bass and very fun. Instrumental separation could have been better with all versions, but they are not too bad.

They also lack the vast soundstaging (burn-in will improve this), clarity and fuller in your face sound of my Sennheiser IE 8, but then again the IE 8 costs three times as much as an individual Radiopaq. If I have to pick one of the four, I would go for the Jazz as it allows me to relax in between sessions with my IE 8. It is less bold, softer, slightly colder and ideal for chill-out sessions (like before sleep). Unfortunately the design meant that it sticks out of my ear a bit and thus is physically uncomfortable to sleep-in. The Pop version is better in this regard as they are as tiny as the CX 95, and has an overall better fit.

It is actually nice to find that the enclosure is indeed made of metal. Even the nozzles are metal. They feel very tough and yet light. The same however can't be said about the cable. The cord seems tough, but they kink a lot, and are also microphonics. The microphonics isn't as bad as the Sennheiser CX 300, but they are still noticeable. They can be worn over the ear, which can somewhat alleviate the microphonics issue. As for fit, the Pop version first my ear the best due to its small size. Coming up on the rear is the Jazz version due to its rather large housing. The silicon taps are also proned to pick up dirt easily, though John of Radiopaq did inform me that they are looking into alternatives including foam tips. Isolation is on par with my Sennheiser CX 95 and s-Jays, but no where near the Klipsch Customs.

At £59.99, the Radiopaqs do offer plenty of value, but getting them all would mean spending just under £240. For that you can get a Sleek Audio SA6 (US$199), or the Sennheiser IE 8, which while only allows you to customise the bass, has overall better clarity. Another would be the CrossRoads MylarOne Quattro, which at US$88 may be a serious contender to the Radiopaq, whilst also offering interchangeable bass ports.

All in all, the Radiopaqs surpassed my expectations. They don't come with plenty of frills - in fact just the headphone and three pairs of single-flanged silicon tips are included within the retail plastic case. But what you do get is a pair of headphone with good sound quality/price ratio and a two year warranty to match. I find them better than the equally priced Denon AH-C551, and just about equal to the Sennheiser CX 95. The Jazz version in particular is a keeper and I have no qualms about saying that this version is one of the better sub-£100 in-ear headphone I have heard.

The Radiopaq Classical, Jazz, Pop and Rock are all available on Amazon UK. Radiopaq has plans to launch the IEMs in the US in the future, but you can always get them from their own online store now.

+ Great sound quality/price ratio
+ Good build quality
+ Two years warranty as standard
+ Very light
- Kinky and microphonic cord
- Packaging


Anonymous said...
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Earphone said...

I love ipod too.