Home Headphones iBasso SR1 – Balanced Neutrality

iBasso SR1 – Balanced Neutrality

by Vadim Kolchev
iBasso SR1 – Balanced Neutrality

iBasso engineers are well known for two things. The first is their fundamental approach to the tuning of their solutions that may take even several years. The second is the ability to get their own sound. It is no surprise that their new headphones benefit from both things.

I would like to thank iBasso for providing me a review sample in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
To begin with, it is necessary to say that SR1 model has been tuned for almost a year and engineers had tried many transducers before they finished with the custom-designed driver with a cone made of bio-cellulose on silicone mounting with a magnetic system of enhanced power. After that, there have been many experiments with the general and acoustic design that resulted in a limited-quantity batch of 500 headphones.

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iBasso have also carefully thought about pricing for their new model and has made it reasonably balanced, iBasso SR1 costs about $500.

Packaging and accessories
iBasso have never had problems with packaging appearance and presentation. The outer cardboard packaging is of average thickness and full of technical information about used technology. Inside you will find a large nylon zipper case that contains headphones, cable, and manual.

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The designers did their best for packaging to look as attractive as possible, bringing their attention to the smallest details, such as a metal plate with serial number (you remember it is a limited edition, don’t you?)/

Design and comfort
iBasso have succeeded in making their new model unusual, you can see it on the photos. Previously we have never seen such cups of silver metal, made in the form of a stepped amphitheater. Right beneath the cups, there is a black grill that brings some openness to the model. It is necessary to say that the cups are not entirely acoustically transparent and you get proper isolation with SR1, however the sound leaks to the outside good as well, so you probably wouldn’t want to bring them to an office with many nervous colleagues.

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The headband is made of spring steel, it is very light, and there is proper weight distribution that becomes possible with the use of Tuscan leather for headpad. Special bindings allow it to be moved up and down and therefore to control the pressure of the earcups, which, in their turn, can be moved on 2-axis basis that allows getting the best comfort.

Due to soft cushions SR1 are very comfortable and do not cause fatigue even during the long listening periods. Of course, this also becomes possible with a relatively small weight of 420g.

Cushions can be easily replaced if needed, and iBasso also offers perforated cushions that bring some changes to the sound. I haven’t tested them yet but will share my opinion as soon as I do.

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The cable is detachable, and engineers equipped it with unusual MMCX connectors with pimples. Here you insert the stock cable until you hear a click and then twist connectors, fixing them inside the lock. To detach cable, you have to do the same vice versa. Time will show if this is a good solution, but at first glance, it looks convenient and allows to use iBasso’s cables of CB series that will allow experimenting with sound. As you have already understood, headphones accept any cables with generic MMCX connectors. The only limiting factor is that connectors should be large enough to hold and grip in case you need to detach them.

The stock cable is rather simple and has some microphonic effect due to its fabric coating. However, when using the headphones stationarily (and you won’t use them outdoors for sure), it is not a problem. The cable looks reliable and will highly likely work for a long time. It is made of OFC and sonically is probably the best solution for this model. If you want a balanced connection, there is a variant with Pentaconn cable.

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The build quality is excellent, headphones are made mainly of metal, and I believe their level of durability is rather high.

Sound
I used the following equipment during the listening session:

  • Yulong DA9 and Resonessence Labs Concero HP as DAC and amplifier;
  • Apple MacBook Pro Retina 2016 as the source;
  • Fidelia as a player;
  • Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, theBit OPUS#2, Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000, and others as portable players;

I have allowed 60 hours of burn-in before the final listening session, and I have noticed changes for the first 40 hours.

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As I have already written in the beginning of the review, iBasso SR1 sound in iBasso style. They are neutral, full of details with slightly accentuated treble. iBasso is famous for its view of the sound. Upon the whole, SR1 can be compared with entry-level isodynamic models of HiFiMan but with better weight in sound and are of course more easy to drive. Headphones are created for those who value neutral sound.

Bass is not accentuated here, and this may be a downside for those who like enhanced low frequencies. Those who like neutrality will surely enjoy SR1 as the lows are genuinely balanced, fast but weighty and deep enough to sound natural and reveal all peculiarities of recording, be it rumble or hit. The control of the lows is good even in the deepest layers which are not the case with all models.

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Mids develop the model’s sound vision – they are detailed, neutral but without excessive micro-contrast. Of course, it requires recordings of good quality, and headphones do not add their own signature, so you will hear exactly what has been recorded. On good recordings, they will sound realistic, emotional with quality instruments and vocals. It is also good that iBasso hasn’t tried to make their new headphones very monitor-sounding as it was, for example, with DX80 player. SR1 has a slight accent between upper mids and highs, and due to it, the female vocals sound outstanding. It also increases overall detail retrieval. Probably this is the reason why the soundstage of SR1 is so good – it is above average in all dimensions with good separation of instruments and layering.

Highs are well thought-over here. Despite the slight accent in the 4kHz region, there is no harshness or unnaturalness, especially given the fact that the 8kHz region is a little bit recessed. Therefore the highs sound natural, without a metal accent and not synthetical. Resolution and length of highs are not immense but good, attacks and decays are well presented with entry-level layering that is not a surprise given the price of the headphones. The highs here are sounding well with overtones and needed airiness.

I don’t think it is necessary to dig too deep into comparisons because I don’t have anything that might be directly compared to SR1. Meze99 are very different in sound and overall presentation. HiFiMan Sundara is more detailed and plain but brighter and requiring better amplification. HE-400S from the same HiFiMan are warmer and have less resolution. I had other models long ago and therefore cannot directly compare them. Of course, more expensive models, such as AudioZenith PMx2v2 sound better.

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Compatibility
One of the main benefits of this model is that it does not require a powerful source to sound to its full potential. A player with average amplification is enough. The only requirement is enough technical ability to accentuate the neutrality and resolution of SR1. Of course, iBasso players are good for this purpose, as well as QLS361 or FiiO X7-2.

The model is stylistically universal. Recording quality sensitivity is rather high – approximately 8 or 10.

Traditional example tracks
Lang Lang — Consolation No. 3 in D-Flat Major, S. 172
Yes, I won’t be original here. This light and virtuoso piano composition suit well to demonstrate the potential of such technical and neutral headphones that truly shine here.

Coheed and Cambria — True Ugly Not everyone likes neutrality and technicality when listening to metal, but I believe that progressive metal should be listened to this way. I love the way SR1 retrieve details from this track and present them.

Kovacs — Cheap Smell I can’t help falling in love with such tracks: amazing vocals, attractive presentation, stylish mix of genres. If we add neutral and detail-rich headphones (you guessed which ones), we get the portion of audiophile paradise.

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Conclusions
Upon the whole iBasso have done what they usually do – their own sound signature again, this time in over the ear headphones. If you search for a relatively cheap model with good technical abilities but not requiring much amplification, SR1 should make it in your shortlist.

As usual, the same review in video format.

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