Whew, been a while.
Welcome again to another installment of Bus Ride Impression. The seasons seems to have taken a toll on me given how busy I have been for over a month now, not being able to write anything for you, my loyal readers. So allow me to apologize for the absence, times are trying, pair that with the seasons coming and you can pretty much imagine how busy I have been (a loss in the family held me back a bit, so again, my apologies).
However, as I pick myself up, I would normally go for something that I really enjoy doing, like writing for the column. And as I have been missing in action for a good few weeks, this is practically just right for me to get back to.
So, for today, I am writing about one of the newest IEMs in the block, the IMR Acoustics R1. IMR Acoustics is a new brand being helmed by Bob James of the famed Trinity Audio brand, and he decided to depart from Trinity Audio to pick up a brand of his own. I will really not go into details, but I guess that move somehow allowed Bob to really go at it, making IEMs the way he used to back in the Atlas days. I must say, he has outdid himself after several designs of his previous works.
So, does the IMR R1 offer anything that is much different from Bob’s previous works? If so, how much different? Considering the price tag of 500 GBP, is worth the investment? Let’s find out then.
I will have to be blunt, Trinity Audio had their bouts with their products’ durability especially with the Sabre and the first Vyrus. While there was definitely a significant improvement with the Vyrus V2 and their other recent in-ear monitors, Bob did make certain that the build issue of his previous works are definitely buried in the past by the looks of the R1. He definitely stomped the issue out by using screws to seal the shells of the IEM.
As much as the shells were improved, I don’t find it in any way uncomfortable nor heavy. Fact is, the weight feels to be just right; gives you that premium feel knowing that a material is of significant quality while keeping its weight up to par with that is acceptable for most users. For the better part of it, it goes up to par in terms of earpiece build of much more expensive IEMs in the market. Heck, I would say the build can pit up against Campfire shells, but then that is just me.
Another thing that IMR improved on is the termination part of the earpiece to the cable. While it uses the conventional 2-pin terminals, I liked how the terminals slide through the female jack. It slides in with precision ease with a small groove to ensure that the orientation is correctly placed. Even with the groove though, you will still be able to use aftermarket cables which allows you to go for different materials and different termination (balanced or single ended should do just fine).
Perhaps the most stellar improvement that R1 introduced is the latch to allow the IEM to switch between an open and closed back IEM. While it may be a question as to how much improvement it can bring in terms of soundstage, the R1 surprisingly carries quite a wide soundstage for an IEM, somewhat reminiscent of a headphone. Yes, I will not argue that the R1 may not rival high end cans like the ones from Audeze or Sennheiser in terms of soundstage, but the R1 can go quite far. I am quite please to have such an IEM that can still make your head turn when I tried it with a Def Leppard track; the staging is quite amazing to be honest.
In a very Bob-like fashion, he still opted to have tuning filters included in the packaging, this allows one to fine tune the sound of the R1 to one’s liking. I personally opted for the blue ones as it sounded the most natural of all.
To my pleasure, R1 came with 2 cables both terminated with 3.5 plugs, but what made it really nice is that one uses a TRRS plug, something not common with a lot of IEMs. This has to be taken to a try with my Hifiman HM-901S as it allows balanced connection using a 3.5mm jack. However, IMR Acoustics decided against a cable with mic, which I don’t see much of an issue, as an IEM of this price should ideally be used for music enjoyment rather than to take in calls. It would have been nice though if it does, although this is something I personally complain about.
Overall, the packaging seems to be excellently done with only a couple of gripes: IMR Acoustics could have used a better material with the packaging (although this seems to be of very small significance, but given the price of the IEM, IMR Acoustics could have opted for something better like a thicker cardboard) and they could have included a much better IEM case than the one included in the box (dreaming for a Pelican type case), however I guess IMR Acoustics invested more on the build of the R1 to ensure that it sounds as beautiful as it can get and that it will be as durable as it can be. Fact is, the IMR R1 is offered with a 2-year warranty which means they very much confident on how the build is.
Sound has to be the biggest argument of an audio gear; after all, this has to be the primary purpose of any. As for the R1, I am guessing upon opening the box that it will carry the typical Bob sound signature of an IEM. Lo and behold, I was surprised to find it a tad different from his conventional tuning. What stood out as the signature of the R1 that is way different from Trinity Audio-ear IEMs from Bob was it sounded a lot more like a reference IEM; gone are the usual bass-bumps that I normally hear from his earlier works. With the R1, it still does carry some amount of bass but not reminiscent of his earlier works. It was clean, rather linear with mid-range being pushed a bit than his usual norm and highs a bit sparklier than how it was before. As a result, I will say that the R1 has to be the most natural of all of his works. Adding to that, the R1 sounded a lot more musical rather than analytical, which may not exactly please some headphiles. However, for casual listening, this has to be a very enjoyable piece of art, with harmony and melody positioned in such a way that you will simply plug it in and enjoy with your usual tracks. I wouldn’t say it is a bad thing, what with its price; It still has that amount of details that can be used for critical listening, although I would suggest this more to get back to the roots of why we are in the hobby: to enjoy what we listen to. That being said, the R1 is one of those IEMs in the market that one has to have if we are throwing all cautions in the wind and simply wants to enjoy our tracks.
Apart from this fact, the R1 carries quite a wide soundstage, something that really astounded me upon trying it with the switch on for open back mode. Normally, the staging of an IEM may be left less desirable in this department, but the R1 offers something reminiscent of using headphones with open setup; I am pretty amazed how the staging worked well with the imaging, allowing that feel of spaciousness with the tracks I tried.
Allow me to walk you through with what I heard with the IEM and the tracks I used. I will stick to the blue filters as I would like to go through my impressions in a manner that I am not being too analytical, just someone trying to describe how the sound is as I casually listens to it.
Hold My Hand (Hootie & The Blowfish, Cracked Rear View)
I tried to take the R1 to a spin using the HM-901S and true to my expectation, the balanced connection worked pretty well. I particularly liked how the R1 laid the inherent sound of the HM-901S, much to my enjoyment. The track sounded true to how I wanted it to sound like when I purchased the HM-901S: clean, natural sounding, and spacious. The guitars at the intro sounded well imaged with the R1 as the bass guitar makes its intro. Darius Rucker’s voice surfaced in such a manner that it jived well with the instruments; none was left out nor spilled over. It was a very enjoyable experience, making the track feel like it sounded a lot different from the usual IEMs I used to listen to it.
Never On The Day You Leave (John Mayer, The Search For Everything)
As said earlier, it is really more on harmony and melody plus the soundstage that the R1 excels in. With the track (using the Astell & Kern and Centrance Glove Audio A1 pair), it was pretty obvious how coherent the drivers of the R1 are. While it allows some details for one to dissect, it really is more on the musicality of the sound that R1 that makes some killing. You can easily enjoy the melodious violins and pianos of the track as John Mayer lulls one to relaxation. The sound is quite smooth even at around 2kHz-4kHz, something that in my opinion is where some IEMs fall short. The R1 has an excellent upper mids, something that most mid-centric folks will definitely enjoy.
Snow Day (Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, Tails)
It is more of allowing the guitar strings try and tickle your ears, the track was indeed executed excellently by the R1. More so when I slapped it with a silver plated copper cable made by JT HiFi Audio, the track offered an even better clarity which emphasized the strings a lot more than just using the stock cables. Perhaps this is the most enjoyable manner I have heard Snow Day, something more of allowing you to just laying back and having the track play in your ears. Even when the drums came in, nothing sounded overwhelmed; every instruments are heard clearly.
Overall, I liked the change on the tonality of R1 from the previous works of Bob. Sure, you can feel that it may not exactly be as analytical as you will hope for in an IEM, but then again, I will have to repeat it, in terms of musicality, the R1 can go toe to toe with more expensive IEMs.
However, I will have to admit the downside of some gripes I mentioned. After using it for this review, perhaps the biggest issue I have is the stock cable, as the left wire doesn’t stay over my ear. Can be a tad annoying but I guess you will just have to position in such an orientation that it will stay that way. Or perhaps, stay with the SPC cable I used which yielded a more fantastic result anyway.
Nevertheless, I will stand to my statement earlier that this can go up against a lot of more premium IEMs in the market. It sounds beautifully, and for the purpose of musicality, spending 500 GBP should be a bargain considering how it sounded like.