The debut headphones from Quad, the ERA-1, utilize their exclusive electrostatic technology. British-based Quad is renowned for pioneering this technology in headphone drivers and brings its expertise to the ERA-1.
With a high sensitivity of 108 dB and a low impedance of 20 ohms, the ERA-1 is well-suited for use with portable audio sources. However, it’s important to note that the electrostatic technology employed results in an open acoustic design, which may not be ideal for portable use.
The Quad ERA-1 headphones embody Quad’s signature design while also representing a classic example of planar magnetic headphones. Constructed with a blend of metal and high-quality artificial leather, the earcups, protective grilles, fastening elements, and headband adjustments showcase meticulous craftsmanship, leaving a positive impression that aligns with the model’s premium positioning.
Weighing 420 grams, the Quad ERA-1 headphones possess a substantial yet comfortable weight characteristic of planar headphones. This weight contributes to a pleasant heft that avoids causing strain on the neck muscles during extended listening sessions. Equipped with standard headphone cables connected via two mono 3.5 mm jacks, they offer easy compatibility with alternative cables, including balanced connections to amplifiers.
One notable feature of the Quad ERA-1 is the inclusion of a second pair of ear pads in the package. These pads not only differ in material finish but also in internal space size, influencing the headphone’s sound characteristics and emitter operation mode. While generally well-received, this design feature represents the only aspect that may warrant consideration or adjustment based on individual preferences.
Both versions of the ear pads provided with the Quad ERA-1 headphones offer full-size coverage, enveloping the ears entirely, yet they exhibit significant differences in design and comfort. The small ear pads closely mimic the standard ones, boasting proportions and contours that seamlessly align with the headphone cups. Despite their shallow depth and uniform cushion height, the internal space is somewhat constrained, causing slight discomfort for larger ears. Crafted from a soft, suede-like material, the surface ensures a secure grip, while the perforated inner leather insert enhances breathability.
In contrast, the second set of ear pads offers a more spacious internal design, featuring increased depth and a protruding section that fills the space behind the ear. Although the outer dimensions are nearly identical to the small ear pads, they appear larger and bulkier. Constructed from perforated artificial leather on both sides, these ear pads afford greater freedom and comfort for the ears. However, it’s worth noting that the leather surface, while sleek, can be slightly slippery, particularly when paired with the headphone’s substantial weight.
Therefore, when opting for the larger ear pads, it’s advisable to minimize head movements, whereas the smaller ear pads offer more freedom of movement. The choice between the two is largely subjective and depends on personal preferences regarding fit and materials. However, I found the method of attaching the ear pads to be less than ideal. They are affixed to the headphone cups using plastic dowels, reminiscent of grills on budget speakers. The tightness of the attachment can lead to difficulties in removal, risking damage to the skin or fastenings. Moreover, improper installation may result in a gap around the perimeter, causing an imbalance in output between the left and right headphones, particularly in the bass and lower mid areas.
Upon seeing how the ear pads are secured, my instinct was to add a seal around the perimeter to ensure an airtight interface between the ear pads and the cups. In general, replacing the ear cushions on this model should be approached with caution and undertaken only by those who fully understand the procedure and accept the associated responsibility.
Overlooking these issues, the developers likely reasoned that since users would stick with one type of ear pads, there was no need to prioritize aesthetics in their design. However, such a rudimentary mounting system detracts from the overall experience of using the headphones. It would have been much more preferable to implement ear pads with an additional sealing contour and a magnetic retainer, or at the very least, more convenient latches, even if it meant a slight increase in cost.
Compared to its competitors, the Quad ERA-1 presents a compelling proposition: it justifies its price tag with valuable bonuses. Another consideration is that achieving killer sound with planar headphones necessitates a powerful amplifier, which fortunately is readily available. Furthermore, swapping ear pads significantly alters the ERA-1’s sound profile, essentially offering two distinct models in one. If the less comfortable ear pads yield a preferable sound, it’s a matter that warrants addressing with the manufacturer. I didn’t initiate this issue. Finally, based on my experience, a balanced cable paired with an appropriate amplifier is essential for optimal performance, particularly when using the small ear pads.
Overall, the Quad ERA-1 left an exceptionally positive impression. Given that this marks the company’s inaugural foray into this genre, one can only commend the developers and exclaim “bravo.” The debut was undoubtedly a success. However, a change in the ear pads is strongly recommended.