The following is what I hear from the 1More Piston Earbuds and IEMs. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my iPhone 5S.
Tracks used were across a variety of genres.
1More Piston Earbuds
I’m going to spend a little less time on the Piston Earbuds – simply because I don’t really like the tuning, and really speaking I think a lot of people may struggle with them. When I measured channels – before I started the critical listening tests, the measurements show extremely good driver matching.
The first thing I noticed with them is that there is virtually no sub-bass at all. Sub 50 Hz is there, but so light you can hardly hear it, and even at 75 Hz, when you have music playing, it’s just so light so as not be really there. One of the tracks I use to measure bass is Lorde’s “Royals” and when the low bass hits, usually it can sometimes get overpowering. Not so with the Piston Earbuds – it’s hardly there.
The second thing worth noting is that the mid-range is actually quite strange. It has quite a bit of presence between 500 kHz and 1 kHz, but then slopes away to a real notch between 2 and 3 kHz (which is where a lot of earphones actually have a presence bump), and then return again with resonant peaks at 3-4 kHz and then again around 7 kHz. The real problem I think is the drop between 2 and 3 kHz combined with the excessive mid-bass. It combines to give female vocals (in particular) and almost hollow and quite dark sound. The sweetness I’m used to just isn’t there.
Treble is OK, and they have quite reasonable upper end detail without any sign of sibilance. Cymbals have good shimmer, and some acoustic instruments actually sound quite reasonable.
Soundstage (again surprisingly) isn’t overly open or spacious – and this is usually a strong point of earbuds. Imaging unfortunately also suffers, partly due to some masking with the mid-bass, and partly due to the lack of cohesion in the mid-range.
Although over quite a few hours I did manage to get used to the signature of the Piston Earbuds, I can’t really say at any point that I really enjoyed them sonically. I included graphs for the HiSound PAA1 (sub $15 on Amazon), and also the VE Zen (not fair due to its price), but also the VE Monk (around $5 from China). The PAA1 sounds quite decent for an earbud (doesn’t have a great deal of resolution – but is fairly balanced). But the Monk sounds phenomenal.
Even using EQ, whilst I could balance out the mid-range to make the Pistons a lot more palatable, I couldn’t add sub-bass that wasn’t there to begin with.
1More Piston “Voice” IEMs
So time to move onto the “Voice” IEMs, and I can honestly say it was both a relief, and also enjoyable to switch.
The “Voice” IEMs have a slightly warm bottom end, with reasonable extension, a slight dip in the lower mids, and associated rise in the upper mids, and then a rolled off treble which remains smooth and coherent without becoming strident or sibilant. I did check channel balance before proceeding, and they match very closely – with a slight deviation through the mid and lower bass (this is not noticeable during playback).
Overall Detail / Clarity
My test for this is using both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” – mainly for the recording quality and micro detail. The “Voice” IEMs responded really well with both tracks – showing very good clarity and also good tonality. Bass guitar comes through nicely without overpowering, and the mid-range is clear and coherent. Guitar has good edge or crunch, and there is a lot of cymbal detail present without having to strain to hear it. Vocals have good timbre (male vocals may be ever so slightly thin), and there is good dynamic contrast to both tracks – especially with “Sultans”.
Sound-stage & Imaging
The “Voice” IEMs have what I would call typical staging for an IEM – not overly spacious (even with binaural tracks). Most IEMs are relatively intimate, and these are no exception. With Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”, the sound is definitely still ‘in-head’, but what did impress me was the imaging. These IEMs are very clear and clean, and I think this aids imaging quality a lot. With both this track, and also Loreena McKinnetts “Dante’s Prayer”, staging is intimate in both tracks, but presentation and imaging (and tonality) make both tracks very enjoyable. With the applause at the end of “Dante’s Prayer”, a good IEM will be quite immersive, and there were hints of that with the Voice IEMs – a very good sign.
I finished with Amanda Marshall’s “Let It Rain” – a track with a naturally holographic feel about it, and there was good conveyance of spatial sense. What made the track even more enjoyable is that it can occasionally register sibilance if the tuning is too sharp. Not a hint of it with these IEMs. Another tick registered.
Bass Quantity and Quality
To evaluate bass quality I always first listen to Mark Lanegan’s “Muddy Waters”. This blues rock track is dark, brooding, and with the right earphones can show both quality and quantity of bass (it will usually expose any muddiness or bass bleed). The “Voice” IEMs wee magic with this track – visceral impact, and crystal clear vocals. Mark’s voice was gravelly, and had great timbre and tone.
To test low bass, I switched again to Lorde’s “Royals” – and the bass was once again excellent. The “Voice” IEMs reach pretty low with ease, and once again I was impressed how relatively clean the bass was given its impact. And again, Ella’s vocals were clean, clear, and perfectly balanced. This is a really good presentation.
Those who’ve read my reviews in the past will know how important female vocals are to me. A good two thirds of my music revolves around female artists – from Jazz, Opera and Blues to Trance, Pop and Indie – I’m an unabashed fan. For an IEM to tick my boxes, it must excel with my favourite female vocalists. And the “Voice” delivers here. Yes they aren’t as airy and euphonic as some of my favourite higher value earphones, but for $30 they are definitely hitting the right notes. Agnes Obel this time has much better tonality, and the honkiness / hollowness I’d encountered with the earbuds is replaced by a nice sense of euphony.
And moving through my usual repertoire (London Grammar, Angus & Julia Stone, Christina Perri, Gabriella Cilmi, Feist, Florence and the Machine, Lianne La Havas and Norah Jones), I was experiencing similar and really enjoying it. Vocals sounded both clear and perfectly balanced. The bass impact really helped dynamic tracks like FatM’s “Howl” and Feist’s “The Bad in Each other”. Gabriella Cilmi’s “Safer” was goosebump inducing (always a great sign), and anything from Norah or Lianne La Havas was pure creamy bliss.
The good thing about the “Voice” IEMs is that it handles female vocals extremely well, but it’s not at a cost to male vocals. My rock and classic rock tracks had plenty of dynamics with extremely good bass impact and clarity. Guitars had the right amount of edge. Cymbals hits were clean, with just the right amount of shimmer/decay.
But the important thing was that male vocals sounded pretty natural. About the only track they had trouble with was Breaking Benjamin’s “Diary of Jane” – where the wall of guitar threatened at times to overwhelm the drivers (this track can bring a lot of IEMs to their knees though – which is why I use it). Acoustic music was brilliant – Hotel California was entrancing, and I really enjoyed Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” from his unplugged album. There is something about the tonality of the “Voice” IEMs which really brings acoustic guitar to life. As always though, my litmus test for vocals is always Pearl Jam. They really performed well here – nothing I could really fault, and I’d have no problems just popping these Pistons in my ears, and playing my whole PJ collection right through.
Genre Specific Notes
Everything I tried with the “Voice” IEMs was either very good or at least passably good. I did find that with Floyd’s “Money” the bass guitar had a tendency to very slightly mask a little detail at lower volumes, but that really is nit-picking. They were every enjoyable with both Jazz (Portico Quartet’s “Steepless” was captivating) and Blues, and versatile enough to handle even opera and classical. I did find that for solo instruments they were particularly good – Kempffs rendition of Beethoven’s sonatas, and Zoe Keating’s magical cello (check out the album Into The Trees if you get a chance) were both magical.
They were particularly strong though with plain old modern pop, Indie (Band of Horses, Yesper, Wildlight), and particularly with EDM and Electronic genres. The clarity through the mid-range combined with the impact of the bass combines well in this price bracket, and I can see these sitting well with fans of EDM, Trance and even Hip Hop or Rap.
So pretty good all-rounders.
Amplification, Equalisation, Summary and Pictures on the Last page after the click HERE or below