Quad ERA-1 review Part 1


They’re as abundant as tomatoes at the grocers in conversations about everything from automobiles to watches, but are they always necessary?

Do you enjoy your steak frites any less if you haven’t tasted them at the other restaurant across town that’s well known for them?

I sincerely doubt it.

Yet, there are some who seem to want a comparison when doing reviews: Reviews of anything.

I get it. I like to make comparisons, but I’m not sure if they are paramount to a well-done review (steak metaphor), especially in high-fidelity, as many products can stand on their own.

Also, I’m pretty sure that companies don’t necessarily design their products to sound like something else, look like something else, or have a circuit path, crossover, or engineering philosophy just like something else (yes, there are always exceptions, but I'm speaking generally about hi-fi products here, not iPhones). Pointing out differences or similarities can be helpful for the consumer on the hunt, but a great review they do not always necessarily make in my opinion. YMMV.

Yet, despite those thoughts, it was a comparison that instantly leapt to my mind regarding two headphones following the front doorbell ringing at my place a few days ago.

Let me explain.

I’ve always enjoyed the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow – they are dynamic, have excellent resolution, are comfortable for extended listening sessions and at $799 USD are truly in a class of their own as far as I’m concerned from a SQ/price point for a planar-magnetic, open-back headphone.

So when the FedEx man handed off a box containing the brand new Quad ERA-1 planar-magnetic over-ear, open-back headphone which retails for between $650 USD to $780 USD – prices varied looking around the Internet – I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a tailor-made, sub-$800 USD over-ear comparison in the making with the Flow.

Sure, there are difference between the two, but would it be their similarities or differences that help contribute to a worthwhile comparison? Probably both.

The ERA-1 is Quad’s initial foray into the planar-magnetic headphone market. The company had been famous for decades for their award-winning electrostatic speaker designs (the legendary ESL-57 loudspeaker is what kickstarted me on my hi-fi journey several years ago), so breaking away from electrostatic engineering and focusing instead on a planar-magnetic design is truly a first for them.

The ERA-1 features a 20-Ohm impedance (+/-15 per cent (@1kHz), 108dB sensitivity +/-3dB/Vrms rating, a 10Hz~40kHz frequency response and <2dB (@100-5Hz) channel balance, it comes with two sets of ear pads (one synthetic leather, one genuine sheepskin) a fitted case and detachable (socket-fitted) two-meter cable with 3.5mm jack and 6.3mm adapter included.

MrSpeakers has been at the forefront of planar-magnetic driver design for a number of years and the Aeon Flow is the latest iteration in the Aeon series. It presents a slightly less demanding 13-Ohm impedance, features a lower 94dB/1mw sensitivity, an unpublished frequency response, uses detachable dual-entry cable, has a NiTonal “memory metal,” hinge-free headband design, a 3.5mm and 6.3mmm termination and like the ERA-1 ships with a durable fitted travel case.

Build quality on both is solid, with the ERA-1 eschewing the Aeon’s more futuristic styling for a traditional, if muscular, aesthetic. Both feature a comfortable headband, a healthy does of metal-alloy and plastic throughout their chassis/ear cups and both have a signature sonic presentation.

The ERA-1 fit is snug across the crown of the head with weight distribution feeling very even, I haven’t noticed any singular pressure points and I chose to do my listening with the sheepskin pads as they gave a better seal around my ears. Build quality is solid and the ERA-1 feels like the business in your hands and even better on your head. The cord material is a smooth fabric weave and it doesn’t bunch or bind at all, in fact it has a slight spring to it which sees it tend towards straightening out nicely once the headphones are in place on your head.

The sound of the ERA-1 out of the box is warm and inviting and instantly reminded me of that classic “Quad sound” I fell love in with when it came to their loudspeaker designs which was all about midrange magic, the biggest difference here being the possession of much more authoritative bass than any ESL-57s could muster that I’ve spent time with. Detailed without being analytical, they present a wide, enveloping and cohesive sound field with excellent spatial separation.

This is separation of an instrument and vocal delineation variety though, the musical thread and holistic synergy of the electro tracks I used for initial listening displayed real bounce and drive regardless of what I was powering them with.

While InnerFidelity has previously posted an in-depth review of the Aeon Flow, this is a great opportunity for a fresh take on these cans – with new readers especially. I’ll be performing listening through the Naim DAC-V1 and the HXD® (Headphone Crossfeed Director) built-in headphone amplifier on the Macintosh C2600 tubed preamplifier and also the Astell & Kern SE100.

I’ll be posting the full review on the ERA-1 and also my thoughts on the Aeon Flow in the coming weeks as I hear and experience how they perform both with dedicated home-listening rigs and with a portable player.

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geniekid's picture

Do you enjoy your steak frites any less if you haven’t tasted them at the other restaurant across town that’s well known for them?

Steak frites don't require comparisons to appreciate, but reviews about steak frites might - and reasonably so. After all, what makes a review good? There are probably a lot of different, nuanced answers to that question, but "telling the reader what they want to know" is hard to argue against. One thing I want to know when reading any product review is how it compares to competing products.

That said, it's quite possible I'm not representative of IF's target reader.

Anyway, I look forward to part 2 of this review.

Simply Nobody's picture

Forget about frites ......... How about comparing poutine? :-) ..........

Mrsnikoph78's picture


They’re as abundant as tomatoes at the grocers in conversations about everything from automobiles to watches, but are they always necessary?"

The answer is yes. I've explained why in different comments in other places, but yes. Fundementally we need comparisons AND benchmarks because, more and more, it is impossible to demo headphones in person - we have to take the reviewer's word for it be it you are hundreds of amazon reviewers. We need objective facts about products to make informed choices that satisfy the value equation we bring to the table.

For example, traveling abroad recently, I decided among all my other headphones to take the PSB M4U1s. Why? Because, for $250 they came with two useful cords, a carrying case, extra pads, and can be driven hard by a cell phone. They are pretty comfortable, look reasonable, can have the cord run on either your left or right side. Mechanically sealed, they block noise both to and from me.

Oh, and they sound excellent, great balance overall. Thanks harmon kardon research. If I knew of any other headphones that offer that much value for $250 or less, I'd own those too - if mainly for travel purposes. These had been collecting a lot of dust until I realized they were the perfect pair to take along for the long ride. Now that I understand their true strengths, I love them. Not to mention, for the price, Im sure they crush the Quads in value!

A good review should describe and compare the sound quality relative to the price. It should also highlight it when, as in my example, a product really fits the bill for someone that may be abroad for months but not want to miss out on hi-fi sound. The PSBs work even without the added need for an AMP/DAC, and I love them for that.

RBaer's picture

Now you've got it. The value of any product depends on the user's tastes, preferences, and especially situation. I may love steak frites, but since I'm allergic to onions any review that doesn't speak to ingredients is useless to me. In the same realm, most of my high-quality listening occurs either in or around the pool, or while traveling. So do I need incredible speakers in my den? No, I need great all-weather speakers for my pool area. Love my Klipsch AW650's for this. And I have several pair of great headphones.

Hold the onions on that steak, please...

Simply Nobody's picture

May be a good idea to subscribe to Consumer Reports .......... They do a lot of comparisons of many products :-) ...........

Pmartel's picture

Loving what i'm reading so far, I've been reading up on the newer planar style headphones, but the key thing I see wrong with most of them is construction, great sound mostly from what I've read, but shoddy quality control issues. when one pays that kind of money for headphones, I stick with good dynamics for now, BUT the Quad's look interesting, id I miss something are they open ore closed back as I prefer closed, but when I get rich one day, I WILL consider a pair of Quad ERA1

bluesplayer43's picture

What happen3d to part II?

Rafe Arnott's picture
The QUAD ERA-1 review is in the works. A couple other headphones coming first though.