Review: 1More Piston Earbuds & Voice

SOUND QUALITY

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.

Female Vocals

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.

Male Vocals

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

Review: 1More Piston Earbuds & Voice
3.5 (70%) 28 vote[s]

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Paul is a Kiwi from Down Under (New Zealand) and spends his time selling Lamb by day, and playing round with audio gear by night. He's a self confessed music junkie, with wide musical tastes and a penchant for female vocalists. He is not a golden eared listener, prefers to review armed with an SPL meter and objective measurements, and does his best to balance objectivity and subjectivity. Mostly though, he can be found with headphones on his head, and a smile on his face - lost in the moment.

    26 Comments

    • Reply October 27, 2015

      dalethorn

      I just bought the 1More Earbuds, so I can see how far off the neutral scale they are. I expect them to be better than the Apple Earbuds. Here are curves I did on the Apple Earbuds and Earpods (cable-controls versions), and the fascinating things is, in spite of the huge bass boost I did with the earbuds, there is no distortion or bleed etc. at strong volumes. It makes me think they have a low-cut filter:

      http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Apple_Earbuds.jpg
      http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/Apple_Earpods.jpg

      • Reply November 1, 2015

        dalethorn

        The 1More earbuds are worse than the Apple earbuds.

        • Reply November 1, 2015

          Iulian Cioarca

          Can you please explain what the graphs/dots mean?Thank you very much!

          • Reply November 2, 2015

            dalethorn

            The green line is the actual EQ applied by the equalizer. The EQ curve is the frequency response upside down. Neither the frequency response nor the EQ curve are exact to anything, but should give you an approximation of where the sound has a major deviation from neutral.

            • Reply November 2, 2015

              Iulian Cioarca

              Ok. i suspect the actual freq response is derived from the step response and the postprocesed for equalization. I am intrigued by the steep rolloff of the bass and the hump in midbass.this is typical behavior of a stiff suspension and high spl.i ordered these earphones and I am planning to add a little bit of mass on the diaphragm

              • Reply November 2, 2015

                dalethorn

                I don’t have the in-ear IEM, just the earbuds. There are many earbuds on the market, and some of them have actual bass. There cannot be a “hump” in this earbud, as it has essentially no bass at all.

                • Reply November 6, 2015

                  Iulian Cioarca

                  I am still waiting for them to arrive. I will give them a try with the eq curve you provided and reply with my feedback.

                  • Reply November 6, 2015

                    dalethorn

                    If the sound isn’t lively enough with the big recess I did in the treble, try raising that value a little.

                    • Reply November 8, 2015

                      Iulian Cioarca

                      I finally received the 1more earbuds and tested them. First of all I want to thank you for the advice with equalizer curve. It worked great! Indeed if you listen to then out of the box they sound strange in the mids, I found them fatiguing. After applying the eq they are much more enjoyable,the soundstage is large and voices and instruments sound pretty natural. Guitar notes are precise, drums sound good too, they are punchy without slam. Speaking of slam and deep bass, no matter what I tried I could not improve the subbass. I cannot recommend these earbuds for someone who listens to heavy bass music, but I would definitely recommend them for casual listeners who want to enjoy music on the run. Musicality(if there is such term to describe headphones) combined with good looks, sturdiness and a good price make them a good choice,especially for people who cannot withstand that type of earphones that need to be pushed inside the ear canal.

                      • November 8, 2015

                        dalethorn

                        It’s a very interesting earbud. The build quality looks fantastic, the drivers take a lot of power, but the bass is essentially missing. Yet there are other earbuds (outer ear, not ear-canal types) that don’t look anywhere near the 1More quality that do have useable bass.

                      • November 9, 2015

                        Iulian Cioarca

                        Update for diy-ers. I took them apart to see the drivers. They have a very nice (rubber?) surround and the excursion is immense. This makes me think you need a lot of power to drive them. There is also an interesing dome on the middile of the diaphram(as shown in the exploded view on the official site) After listening them carefully you can tell the bass is there, and it is very precise, but dry, which made me think the motor is very strong(high sensitivity as well). After taking them apart i could tell the magnet was indeed strong. So I set up and did a bit of tinkering on them, by adding on each speaker a small copper ring(didn’t bother to measure the weight, it is just 0.5mm diam). The mids and highs were turned down and the bass was revealed. This time, the bass is punchy and strong and makes the soundstage more balanced. For me, this is definitely an improvement. I am currently testing different rings(because the 0.5mm one seemed a bit heavy and took away too much of the liveliness). This is an experiment. If you want to proceed do it with caution and patience. And steady hands.

              • Reply November 6, 2015

                dalethorn

                Update: If you ignore the deep bass, the EQ curve I did on the $20 earbuds produces a fantastic quality sound with enjoyable warmth. Really.

        • Reply November 6, 2015

          Brooko

          Yep.

    • Reply November 4, 2015

      dalethorn

      “…while I could improve the Piston earbuds, nothing I could do would really make them overly enjoyable. And for $20 it’s not like you’re going to spend a lot of time….”

      Actually I was surprised by what I got with my EQ of the earbuds. The end result was better than Apple’s earbuds, although the Apple Earbuds EQ was less radical. Using the iPhone 6-plus, with or without the Oppo HA-2, the soundstage is large and realistic, and the overall smoothness and musicality is excellent. But of course there is no bass ‘punch’ or ‘slam’, although most of my music that’s noted for bass sounds surprisingly good.

      • Reply November 6, 2015

        Brooko

        Don’t know if you’ve had the chance to try the Monk or Zen from VE Dale – but I’d recommend giving either a try. Looks like you spent quite a bit of time EQing these. I’d suggest most people won’t know where to start – and so they’ll be judging on OOTB sound. But even applying EQ – I didn’t like them. I’d take the Apple Earpods any day.

        • Reply November 6, 2015

          dalethorn

          Yes, radical EQ may make enjoyable, but some things will be missing that way. I tried an Edifier P180 earbud and it at least had bass and a good fit, so I’d recommend it for EQ’ers. I’m not going to put real money into a Zen, and the Monk – dunno – looks too cheap. Anyway, it’s just for fun – better things like the DT-1770 are on the way.

          • Reply November 6, 2015

            Brooko

            Don’t be fooled by the generic looks of the Monk. For $5 it could be the best value for money earbud on the market today. Sounds more like a full sized headphone than an earbud.

            • Reply November 6, 2015

              dalethorn

              Ha! (that’s what scares me). Explanation by analogy: A famous guy had some friends over for dinner. Those guys were working on the SDI/”Star Wars” project for the Reagan govt. The SDI guys told their host that they had just discovered that their project wasn’t space vehicles, it was an Earth penetrator. They said they felt like they’d been on KP for the past 6 years.

            • Reply March 13, 2018

              dale thorn

              Better late than never (or not) — anyway, I got several Monks and Monk-plus earbuds, and if I can deal with the tiny earpads, they are much easier to EQ that way, since they have a more even response with the pads on. Unfortunately, the pads are extremely difficult for me to work with, and they’re not completely consistent. Apple’s earpods have better potential, particularly in the bass where they have real impact when EQ’d.

              • Reply April 26, 2018

                Banagher Links

                What about the high,mid & soundstage?does 1more earbud better than Ve monk+?

                • Reply April 26, 2018

                  dale thorn

                  The 1More and Monk (and Monk-Plus) earbuds are so different there’s no easy comparison. I will say that the Monk and Monk Plus give a nice mid-fi sound if you can get the earpads on without tearing them. But you’ll have no deep bass and the highs will be soft. I left the earpads off and EQ’d them to get a better high-end sound, but the bass is even thinner that way, since the earpads are needed for the best bass (and the best bass isn’t very good).

                  I never tried earlads on the 1more Piston, I just EQ’d them, so I can’t be sure how they would compare. I liked the metal construction of the Piston much better than the cheap plastic of the Monk, but that’s probably not relevant to the sound. In any case, I wouldn’t use any of these for serious listening, and not at all outdoors since there’s no isolation.

    • Reply January 15, 2017

      Ghele Marlay

      Which the better 1More Voice of China Vs Mi Iv Hybrid Dual-drivers ?

    • Reply March 18, 2017

      Mukesh Sharma

      Never Buy 1More EarPhones they have worst customer service and quality too. My earphone stopped working in 1week itself from right ear sound is coming too high and from left ear too Low . I asked them to pickup and replace and it’s been 2weeks there is no response from them.

      WORST SERVICE AND QUALITY.

    • Reply September 3, 2017

      Marcus Lecroy

      Thanks for the in-depth reviews. Didn’t know you could get this information from a free site.

    • Reply March 13, 2018

      Eviatar Tovi

      I really liked these earphones and i think they are good but they deserve two out of five stars. The reason that i’m giving them such a bad rating is because they stopped working AFTER TWO MONTHS(!!!!!!!!!!).So don’t buy these earphones unless you want something for a really short time

      • Reply March 13, 2018

        dale thorn

        A lot of people buy from places that it’s not practical to return the product to when it’s defective. When prices are so low as these earbuds, it also makes it impractical to return them for repair. I’ve had several 1More products, and they all seemed to be well made, but it’s impossible to judge what is going wrong with them internally if you don’t return them, so the manufacturer can tell us whether it’s a product defect or failure from heavy use.

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