Unlike the Grado GR10, I do not unequivocally love the IQ. Certain genres sound amazing through it. Those genres keep mid-bass tones down. They are: trance, classical, folk, most rock, most heavy metal, basically all jazz, and pretty much John Denver’s entire catalogue. For those genres, IQ rules.
Of course, in order to like the IQ, I had to ditch the included ear tips. They are awful. If you’re interested in IQ, or have it but don’t like what you hear, pony up for Shure’s Olives or low-density yellow foamies. Do it and thank me.
NOTE: the observations of this review are taken using Shure Olives and yellow foamies.
Despite housing both a balanced armature driver and an 8mm dynamic driver, IQ makes few, if any, missteps in blending bass with mids, mids with highs, and back and forth ad infinitum. It has the semi-steep U-shaped signature we’ve come to expect from hybrids, and its high contrast sound image helps bring out small stereo details. But apart from the Tralucent 1Plus2, there really are few hybrids that remain 100% coherent from top to bottom.
Its contrast is heavy. And its bass, at once slamming and foot-tapping, tends to bottom out when given a job too big. Jobs too big for it include lots of slamming mid and upper bass. Let’s keep on about it strengths for a bit more. They are many. IQ is contrasty. Its bass is elevated, and its highs are sparkly, but not over-extended. Bass keeps to its channel, and mids keep to theirs. Ditto treble. Decay is fast, and stereo image is wide, just not deep. IQ tosses up well-defined, detailed 3D image. It’s not that wide, nor is it that round. Rather, edges are defined by fine gradients between parts, and each frequency band is carved up neatly.
Where IQ trips is in the mid-bass and high-bass, specifically when either really put the pedal to the metal. IQ bottoms out when fed too much of either signal. This happens no matter the DAC/AMP/DAP you use. You won’t drive IQ away from its proclivity to boom when fed too much of one, or the other, or both. Its headroom is surpassed surprisingly easy. The good news is that you won’t run into unless you listen to a lot of late-90s / early 2000s hip hop. That bottoming out isn’t accompanied by gobs of distortion; it’s just that one moment there is bass detail, and then there is boom.
The other, less-reported problem is that IQ picks out every bit of hiss your source has. IQ Pro fixes almost all of IQ’s problems.
First, it isn’t nearly as sensitive as the IQ. As a result, it hisses much, much less, and, in transporting clean signal from moderately dirty sources, is almost on a level with Earsonics’s SM64 and EM32. Another plus of its lower sensitivity is that there is far more volume wiggle room from aggressive, DACs, and DAPs. What used to be loud at a volume setting of 20/75 on AK100, is now comfortable at a setting of 30/75. Love that Cypher Theorem 720, but hate its hiss? Or find the gain on the 1st-gen Vorzüge Pure and DUO to be too aggressive for the IQ? IQ Pro straightens out most of that.
Then, its bass never bottoms out like the IQ’s does. It retains, full and round in spite of the sound pressure coming through even the rowdiest of mid and high bass frequencies. Still, that bass remains elevated over the mids, but just slightly so. As a result, IQ Pro’s mids are able to jump out more than the IQ’s mids. Most midrange pressure comes an octave below the busiest transitions into high frequencies. Vocals are incredibly clear and sharp. Strings, friends: strings are to do for. Like the IQ, decay is quick, and transition zones are seamless. Highs aren’t hugely different to IQ’s highs. But taken in context of IQ Pro’s milder gestalt, the overall feel of the IQ is younger, and raunchier. And yet when in its element, IQ is truly great. But IQ is greater more of the time.
IQ Pro has all the good of the IQ and almost none of its bad. It is more laid back, more mature. In a way, it is HiFi, not Car-Fi. I feel that it is fair to put it on a level with both versions of Dita Audio’s The Answer.
Put simply, it’s just a cable and some bass that separate the two earphones. If your music doesn’t jump too much in the bass region, IQ may be a good bet. Just change out the god-awful ear tips that come with it. If your catalog of favorite tunes is stuffed with high-strung bassy stuff, IQ’s low headroom may ruffle your feathers. It has mine. Then again, it may not. It’s a hit-and-miss thing. And yet I can say with all honesty that I prefer IQ Pro to IQ.
And the IQ Pro’s insensitivity to hiss and dirty sources deserves attention. Of course, if you need every last dollop of volume from your phones, IQ is the better bet.
The deciding factor for many may be the detachable cable. IQ and IQ Pro’s cables, while strong, while resilient to the nasties of biology and the environment, lack something in ergonomics and practicality to aftermarket options.
So at the end of this back and forth, I’m left wondering: when will IQ be updated with the internal spec of the IQ Pro? As an audiophile, I’d love the freedom of an interchangeable cable. And as an audiophile, I’d love the lower sensitivity, and larger overhead given by the Pro. Still, I love both. I hate both. I have dreamt of both. I’ve had nightmares of both. These earphones have etched an indelible scratch on my brain.
Driver: 2-way hybrid technology:
High performance BA-Driver + 8 mm dynamic driver
Frequency range: 17 Hz – 21 kHz
Impedance: 20 Ohm
Sensitivity (@1 kHz) SPL at 0,1V: 106 dB
maximum output (SPL): 119 dB
Weight: 10 g
Spec: IQ Pro
BA-Driver + 8 mm dynamic driver
Frequency range: 17Hz – 21kHz
Impedance: 20 ohm
Sensitivity (@1 kHz) SPL at 0.1V: 101 dB
Maximum output (SPL): 114 dB
Weight: 10 g