What colour is the sea? A strange question to ask at the beginning of a headphone review, but you'll soon see where we are going with this. You see, on a good day, the sea can be green or blue, on a bad brown or grey, and that's before you start looking at what variant of green or blue. Difficult isn't it? Now take that question to your headphones and you start to ask whether the one-sound-fits-all solution is the best option out there.
That's the premise behind the Radiopaq custom headphones. Rather than a one-sound-fits-all offering, Radiopaq has opted for four different sets of headphones designed for different types of music. It's all, it seems, about choice.
So instead of one choice you get four, aimed at those who primarily listen to pop, classical, rock and jazz. Each music fan gets their own pair of headphones creating a slightly different sound as Radiopaq attempt to emphasise or balance-out certain sounds within the music.
Radiopaq state that "the Rock offering will provide a warm sound with a tightly controlled bass, while the Jazz offering will give rhythm, pace and a perfectly recreated soundstage. Classical promises 25% more detail in the mid to high-end range than standard earphones while Pop will give you a strong vocal, balanced with up to 30% more detailed mid range."
In practice what that means is the Jazz headphones strip out all the bass, all the fluff and give you a clean sound as if you are there in the cafe listening to Coltrane do his stuff. The Rock offering is a bassier, more rounded offering that attempts to bring out the guitars and drums. Pop is well "poppy" with high tones and the bass accounted for and the Classical offering is well a bit more subdued on the bass.
Actually picking out the differences is something of a challenge, but they do sound different. Ok, it doesn't take that long with a clear difference between Rock and Pop, which sit close together and Jazz and Classical, which sit at the other end of the scale. Moving beyond that and decided which sound you prefer is another challenge all of its own.
To help you out, for our test we chose Resolution by John Coltrane from the Love Supreme EP for the Jazz headphones, Cathy Dennis' All Night long from the Move to This album for pop (old skool we know), Michael Nyman's score from the movie Gattaca, and Johnny Cash's Hurt for the Rock. Beyond that we also tested the headphones on a number of other songs, but these where the ones we listened to the most.
The double bass at the beginning of Resolution was the easiest to spot when switching between the four headphones. I personally preferred the Jazz headphones followed by the Rock headphone offering here, the Jazz set do give it a clean sound, but then you might prefer the more subdued Classic offering or the more jumpy Pop offering.
It's hard to make that choice. Harder still given that you probably have a selection of music in your collection. Radiopaq informed us that the idea here was step around the need for digital equalisation in your music player, favouring the tuning of the headphones themselves. Each set has been tuned and constructed to suit a different type of sound. Even if you do have different types of music in your collection, you might prefer a rock sound overall, and therefore the Rock headphones would probably suit.
Get past the slight differences in sound and you'll find that all of the headphones perform well, especially for the £50 price tag. The cable is long enough for most and the fit is standard in-ear stuff. There are different buds in the box to fit your ears (more choices), however they are all standard dome shape, rather than offering you those ones that look like Christmas trees as found in Shure sets or foam offerings as found in the boxes of Sennheiser.
Just as it is hard to determine the colour of the sea, it's hard to determine which headphone set you should opt for, if at all.
The trouble with such choice, and such slight choice, is that you need to hear what the differences are to decide which one is best for you. That's something you're unlikely be able to do without buying all four sets (probably the master plan) and testing them for yourself. Not very helpful we know.
That not knowing is more than likely to make you opt for none of the custom headphones rather than settle for the wrong ones. Yes you might listen to a lot of jazz, but what happens when you then want to listen to some pop on the jazz headphones?
So what's the final recommendation? Well probably the best all rounders of the four for me where the Rock headphones, although the Jazz deserve a mention too, but not when listening to Nirvana. Compared to other one-sound-fits-all offerings from Shure and Sennhesier, both hold their own, however I think the one-sound-fits-all leave little room for error.
As for the sea, I always think it's a lovely blue.