Audio-Technica has made some great over-ear headphones over the years. But IEMs? Eh…I could never really get into them. However, there’s been some buzz over their latest release, the IEX1, which is Audio-Technica’s new flagship. At $1200, these earbuds are competing with big personalities, such as the Campfire Andromeda and Meze Rai Penta. Is the IEX1 worth the cash? Let’s find out in this Audio-Technica ATH-IEX1 Review.
Audio-Technica ATH-IEX1 Review
IN the BOX
With respect to comfort and sound isolation, I have no complaints. But I rarely complain about fit. I couldn’t hear my yapping boss, and my ears didn’t feel worn after a couple of hours of use. The clunky look might turn off some folks. But they’re actually quite light, and the design makes for a very secure fit. You’ll also be able to choose between silicone and foam tips (3 different sizes for each type are included in the box).
The IEX1 sports a hybrid 4 driver configuration within titanium shells. Two balanced armature drivers power the higher frequencies. One dynamic driver boosts the lows, while the other dynamic driver functions across the frequency spectrum.
These IEMs come with an unbalanced 3.5mm cable as well as a balanced 4.4mm cable. The cables employ A2DC connectors, which I found a little tough to detach. But I have delicate lady fingers, and I got a fella to do the work for me. He disconnected the cable with ease and manly grace.
I tried both cables in my test, and used my usual Q5S DAC for the purposes of this review. Apologies to our subscribers for the repeated Q5S pairings. But it’s got the 4.4mm output. I’ll change it up a bit in future reviews. To those without a portable DAC/amp, don’t worry. These buds are easy to drive. And you iPhone or Android will give you plenty of volume.
As mentioned above, I ran the IEX1 through both, a balanced and unbalanced cable. The balanced cable conveyed better separation but became less forgiving in the upper mids. Unsurprisingly, the unbalanced cable wasn’t as clean, but the upper-mids felt more tempered. My plan was to change back to unbalanced, but my fingers started hurting, and I couldn’t disconnect the damn cable. So, this review is primarily based on my test with the balanced cable.
Generous but tasteful, the IEX1 presents a fast and satiating bass. Pop fans will get their punch, while rock fans will also enjoy some low-end warmth. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a warm low-end on a cold night. There’s decent grip here too, giving acoustic strings ample texture and lending plenty of tightness and funk to pop tracks. The IEX1 also presents a solid sub frequency response. So, all genres are covered here.
The upper mids have a hell of a lot more stage room than the scooped out lower-mids. As a result, vocals often tend to sit way up front, while the lower midrange gets lost in the background. And if you like a lot of body in your tracks with a more expansive feel, then you should probably go for an IEM with a different balance. Personally, I found the upper-mids a bit too shouty for me. And instruments like electric guitars and trumpets in the higher midrange started to grate on my ears. Overall, the mix feels a little contrived. Even playing some hip-hop, snares and claps felt harsh on the ears. Drake’s “In My Feelings” is a good example. But in terms of clarity, once the balanced cable is hooked up, I can’t complain. Separation is clean, and the level of transparency is excellent. Classical strings were substantive and realistic. That being said, if I used the unbalanced cable and compared it to the Rai Penta (unbalanced), for example, it’s subpar. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to appreciate the tightness of the sound. Play Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” and you’ll be left with whiplash.
Audio-Technica rarely fails us in the highs. Vocals and instruments in this range feel buoyant, airy and playful. And again, you can’t deny the solid level of detail presented by strings and brass instruments. I have to say, although I didn’t feel any roll-off, the highs are more forgiving than the upper mids; this part of the frequency spectrum is much less in your face. (Miles Davis didn’t pierce my ears out in this range, while in the upper mids, he was killing me). So, although it gets crisp and sparkly in this range (listen to the intro of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere”), it stops short of fatiguing the ears.
No disappointments here. With the balanced cable, the solid separation makes for a holographic soundstage. And as much as I complain about the upper mids, distant instruments in that range (like rhythm guitars) are full of color and definition, giving the track plenty of width.
PROS and CONS
Pros: Super clean and tight with the balanced cable.
Cons: Upper-mid city; loss of definition with unbalanced cable.
When hooked up to the balanced cable, there’s no question that the IEX1 has great skills. Fantastic separation and resolution. And it’s one fast IEM. But the upper mids are a little much at times. And if you don’t have the luxury of going with a balanced connection, you start to lose that utterly clean feel. And it’s a very pricy IEM for being less that outstanding. That being said, IEMX1 sounds classically Audio-Technica-ish; light and lively highs with impressive transparency. If you’re an Audio-Technica fan, you might love the IEX1 for this reason alone. But if you’re looking for a particularly versatile or full-bodied, crowd pleasing sound signature, you might be better off checking out other options in this price range.
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