The cost of a good pair of headphones has been steadily declining over the past few years, just as we’ve all started spending more on headphones. This apparent contradiction is explained by a shift in expectations: where we previously spent a pittance and expected little, we’re now being more generous in our pursuit of greater convenience and enjoyment, which in turn is stimulating companies to invest in new and more economical ways of making better products. One such company is Shenzhen’s 1More, a three-year-old outfit without a marketing budget or much of a profit margin that hopes to win just by offering superb sound at an unbeatable price. The company’s best known product to date are the 1More Pistons, which Xiaomi licensed and sold at a ridiculous $20 price.
I have been listening to 1More’s $99 Triple Driver and $199 Quad Driver for three months, and I have to say that they are indeed winners. The fidelity and clarity of their sound would justify prices multiple times higher. But it’s more than just technical excellence; these headphones are a downright pleasure to listen to.
Let’s run through the checklist of what makes a pair of in-ear headphones good: a rigid protective case, a wire that doesn’t tangle easily or generate noise by rubbing against your chest, a comfortable fit, and a solid seal to keep your music isolated from the din of the outside world. The Triple Drivers are outstanding in each of those categories, and earn bonus marks for their anodized aluminum construction. The relative bulk of these earphones doesn’t translate to a heavy weight or cumbersome use. On the contrary, inserting and extracting these is as easy a process as any pair of in-ears I’ve ever tried (and by this point I’ve tried a lot).
I love the double-stitched faux leather case. It’s semi-rigid and snaps shut with a magnetic flap. The earphones fit inside it perfectly, neither dancing around in a void of space nor crumpling up into a mess. I still can’t get over how effortless and seemingly obvious the design is with these headphones. It makes me shake my head at all the weird contortions that other headphone companies go to for tailored cases, exotic wires, and awkward earphone shapes. Good design should feel natural and like it couldn’t possibly be any other way, and that’s exactly the high standard that 1More achieves.
All the good ergonomics that I enjoy about the Triple Drivers are also true of the pricier Quad Drivers. The travel case is the same, both pairs come with an abundance of tips (including soft foam ones), and the extra driver doesn’t add anything to the weight. It’s no overstatement to say that I could spend an entire day with either pair of 1Mores in my ears and I wouldn’t feel a moment of discomfort. The Quad Drivers do have a fancier cable — with oxygen-free copper and a Kevlar core — but I’m pretty confident that the braided one on the Triple Drivers will last for a long time anyway.
As much as 1More aspires for premium everything, its designs and construction are not without fault. I managed to accidentally unscrew the golden stem on the left Triple Driver earphone, and even though I screwed it back in without a problem, I don’t think that was by design. I’m also not a fan of the plastic remote control since its buttons are hard to distinguish. It’s much nicer on the Quad Drivers model. Neither of them impressed me with their built-in mics, as I had to resolve issues with being heard on the other side of an internet call when using both headphone pairs.
But let’s talk about those titular drivers, because that’s where the 1More magic resides. In a fit of self-explanatory candor, the Triple Drivers have two balanced armatures (BAs) and one dynamic driver, and the Quad Drivers have three BAs and one conventional dynamic speaker. 1More is exceptional in designing its own in-house BAs, and the company believes they might be the smallest in the world. Everyone else, even including boutique ultra high-end brands like Noble Audio and the Ultimate Ears Pro in-ear monitors, license BAs from specialist companies like Knowles.
1More was founded by Gary Hsieh, a Foxconn veteran with experience working on Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, so engineering expertise is at the heart of the company. Even so, it’s remarkable to find a new company entering a business as competitive as personal audio with its own custom acoustic architecture and, well, kicking everyone’s butt while doing it. The technical distinction between the Triple and Quad Drivers is that the latter uses diamond-like carbon instead of titanium for its dynamic driver and is essentially overengineering to provide frequency response beyond the stuff audible to the human ear. Both provide exceedingly good sound, though, and ultimately that’s what matters most.
The Triple Drivers are instant crowd-pleasers. Not only are they lovely to wear, but their sound is lusciously enticing. Their bass booms and blooms without ever being too much. Pair them with some appropriately bumping electronic music (like this DJ Jazzy Jeff set) and you’ll be hitting your bliss point in no time at all. The tuning for all 1More headphones is done by Italian music producer Luca Bignardi, who seems to have been the perfect foil for Hsieh’s engineering nous. All I can say as the beneficiary of their hard work on the Triple Drivers is that they make listening to music an extremely enjoyable experience.
With the Triples being as good as they are, it’s fair to question if there’s any reason for the Quad Drivers to exist at all. I can tell you with certainly that the bigger and badder model is not twice as good. Obviously. But yes, there is a reason and a substantive distinction between the two models, and that’s felt in the high frequencies. The one weakness of the Triple Drivers is that their treble can occasionally sound grainy, and that’s where the Quads come in and smooth everything out.
The Quad Drivers can definitely carry the “reference-class” label, which audiophiles attach to the headphones that are considered most faithful to the original recording and the artist’s intent. The Triples’ extra warmth isn’t apparent on the Quads, though there’s still a listener-friendly bass bump to the tuning. As 1More puts it, “flat [frequency response] is good. Flat with a little bit of love is better.” In short, the Triple Drivers give you more love, while the Quad Drivers offer more precision and refinement.
There’s a danger that, in comparing two exceptional pairs of headphones against one another, I might understate just how excellent both of them are. For $199, the Quad Drivers are a steal, carrying all the hallmarks of luxury headphones, whether you’re looking at performance, ergonomics, design, or convenience. But it’s the $99 Triple Drivers that should have everyone doing a double-take after even a brief listen. Not only are they smartly designed and built for everlasting comfort, but they sound thrillingly good.
The common flaw to most of the best headphones I’ve reviewed so far has been a manifest lack of convenience. My current favorite pair is the Audeze LCD-X, which does amazing things with music but is the size and weight of a small house. What makes the 1More Triple and Quad Drivers great is their rare mix of convenience and performance. I went through the rigors of Mobile World Congress with the Quad Drivers in my backpack, leaving Sennheiser’s IE800s at home, because even I’m not crazy enough to risk losing or breaking $800 earphones at a trade show. And the biggest compliment I can give to 1More’s headphones is that when I’m using them I’m not missing any of my home comforts. The Triple and Quad Drivers take great music on the move in an easy and extremely affordable way.