I’ve been hearing things about Quad Audio for a while now, so I was understandably excited to get my ears on the new Quad Era-1 for a review. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Quad has been cranking out amplifiers for half a century. And now they are breaking new ground with the release of the Era-1. Without a doubt, this open-back planar-magnetic headphone sports a prestigious pedigree. But at $799, how does it sound?
Quad Era-1 Review
The Quad Era-1 comes with a carrying case, 2-pairs of earpads, a 6 ft headphone cable, a 1/4” stereo jack adapter, and a user manual.
That included cable terminates in two dual-entry 3.5 mm stereo plugs, plugging in just below the yoke towards the rear of the earcup. Sheathed in braided nylon, the cable may kink just a little too easily, but the materials offer additional strength to combat wear and tear.
Slightly bulky-looking at first glance, the Era-1 sports a grill over each driver, as well as thick leather padding on the headband. As mentioned, two pairs of earpads are also included. One pair utilizes sheepskin for better isolation and bass impact, while the other uses a hybrid design with velour sitting flush against a listener’s ear, allowing for a more reference-oriented sound.
Once placed on my head, the fit seems just a little loose. My ears remain fully surrounding by the over-ear cups, but the headband feels like it could sit just a little tighter on my head.
Frequency Range: 10-40,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 20 ohms
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 94 dB
The specs reveal a fairly wide frequency range that may deliver some extra detail in the lows and highs. An impedance of just 20 ohms should work well with most low-output devices, though some amplification should still deliver the best sound. Lastly, the sound pressure comes in at 94 dB – a bit low, but fairly normal for open backs.
In the low end, the Quad Era-1 distinguishes itself with a full and energetic character. Notes seem highly detailed and accurate, but its the precise and tactile bass that steals the show here. Adding a certain weight to the lows, the bass features just enough impact to help you feel what you’re listening to – without ever going too far overboard and sounding sloppy or uncontrolled.
Here the Era-1 offers stunning vocals and instrumentation, thanks to a low-distortion and low-compression sound. The overall clarity and accuracy of these mids can’t be discounted, and the overall impression is one of tempered balance. Despite the ample lows and highs that still shine through, the mids remain unsullied or overshadowed by the low- and high-end extension.
Smooth female vocals contrast with a detailed, resolving high end. Perfect for instrumentation or vocals, this high end remains just a tad bit bright, yet never sounds too harsh or uncomfortable. Instead, detail takes center stage here, giving way to a rich and revealing sound.
A good sense of soundstage makes use of ample depth and good placement, and the Era-1 clearly offers more headroom than most other headphones at this price point. Indeed, the sound falls nothing short of airy, with wide-open expanses bounded by finite positions for instruments and vocalists. All in all, this soundstage remains downright breathtaking.
I’m not the biggest fan of the fit. While wearing the Era-1, I always feel like they’re slipping off. And I know that this is just my imagination – even jerking my head back and forth won’t dislodge this baby. Obviously, this isn’t worth worrying about for the 99% of Era-1 listeners who will probably be using the headphone at home, but I still want to mention it.
Despite being an-open back, the Era-1 still does a good job of isolating me from the constant buzz of our review office. Of course, now and again some noise still gets through. Even my keyboard isn’t completely muffled. But this level of isolation, mixed with the mesmerizing soundstage, allows the Era-1 to create a world of music around me.
For a full, articulate sound with plenty of soundstage, too, it’s hard to beat the Quad Era-1. If you’re looking for a slightly warm sound, I might recommend the Mr Speakers AEON Flow over the Era-1, but only if you already have an amplifier that can drive the AEON. While the Era-1 remains easier to drive, its low end seems just a smidgen less intense.
Otherwise, nothing is going to come close to this sound in terms of balance and detail. For a slightly more open sound, you could consider the Grado RS1E. However, as a reference model, this headphone may lack the overall emotive listening experience found in the Era-1.
At $799, the Quad Era-1 offers a refreshing take on open-back, planar magnetic sound. Indeed, the expansive soundstage and attention to detail do much to recommend this headphone. And, once you factor in the quality build, the result remains nothing short of amazing.