iBasso provided the SR1 free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
News of the iBasso’s foray into the realm of full-size headphones got me excited. I’m a fan of their products. I’ve yet to try one I wasn’t duly impressed by. Each item I’ve reviewed stands more or less as a paragon of what can be accomplished within its price-range. I could not wait to get my hands on the SR1, and Paul was happy to oblige.
The SR1 is a marvelous thing. It does not look like anybody’s first attempt. It is refined, expertly functional, with ease and comfort that can only be achieved through maturity of experience. All the materials which touch your head are profoundly soft, leather-like things. I’m not certain how much is genuine leather, but it smells correct, and feels very good. The frame is sturdy metal and screws. The cups are hard plastic, with what I believe is a metal grill to protect the driver. It is solidly built, and unlikely to break without savage abuse. The SR1 is a headphone you can wear forever without discomfort.
The old-school dynamic drivers in this semi-open headphone are… well… anything but old-school. iBasso created the “first ever silicone suspension drivers”, which helps with dynamics and speed. They utilize “Tesla magnetic flux technology” and “bio-cellulose dome diaphragms.” In other words, fancy goddamn shit! You get a frequency range of 3hz to 40Khz, a sensitivity of 108dB @ 1Khz, and only 22Ω impedance. So it’s a strong performer and easy to drive.
My one and only complaint with the design is that the cable (using f**ked up MMCX connectors) attaches to the cups in a way that allows for more microphonics than most other headphones. Vibrations travel freely up the cord, without any damping, and makes every movement of the head audible when the music isn’t loud. It’s not unbearable, and I may have overstated the issue some, but it’s nonetheless annoying.
As the SR1 is a limited run production, I expect further refinement as the design evolves.
The iBasso SR1 is well-balanced between warmth and clarity. I want to call it V-Shaped, except the mids are not lost in the mix, though they take a subtle step back. They are fun headphones, and anything but neutral. They take liberties to make sure you have a good time, and do so in a way that sounds more or less honest.
The treble is heightened and possesses a slight brightness to it. Thankfully, it is delicately done, adding sweetness rather than coldness. This also helps to maintain body in the high notes, staying away from thin or brittle, which can happen when the wrong frequencies are spiked. With the SR1, you don’t get an outrageous amount of air, but more than sufficient. Details sparkle through, demanding you notice them, but not fixate on them, like sunlight shimmering off a fish’s scales as it swims by.
Vocals are vibrant, rounded, and lush. Somehow, without taking a forward position, they stand out as the showstopper. Like the treble, there is a sweet, romantic quality. Warm tones and harmonics give the vocals such fullness and beauty. Yet for all this, there is no veil. Indeed, they sound naked and clear, fully exposed, and perfectly articulate. I tested this with Melissa Menago’s LITTLE CRIMES album. She sounds lush on every headphone, and may come off fussy on very warm cans. With the SR1, the artist comes through in remarkable resolution.
As do the instruments. While the seductive warmth brings more resonance and body than is strictly natural, that sparkly, sweet treble adds bite and crunch to electric guitars, and clean distinction between the elements of each instrument. Pianos sound deep, rich, and organic. Violins cry out, full and sharp. And drums joyfully cut through everything, but never pain the ears.
Moderate bassheads will love how the SR1 handles the low-end. It’s not excessive, but it is north of neutral, make no mistake. There seems to be a lower mids, upper bass hump which is responsible for the overall warmth of these monitors. You can always feel it, even when there are no bass instruments present. A regular guitar sounds fuller, richer, with a pleasant bloom. Then, when the real lows kick in, the SR1 rocks with the best of them. The bass response is not sluggish, either. It has decent speed, amazing depth, and renders tone and texture marvelously. Also, I’ve never heard it distort, even on the big bass grooves of Billie Eilish’s BURY A FRIEND. Of course, Xanny distorts, but that’s on purpose, so it doesn’t count. Thought my drivers had blown on that one!
Soundstage is rather large and open, structured mostly like a cube, though I’d say it’s a little wider than it is tall. Imaging is great, giving you clear positions all throughout the stage. Separation is clean and precise, yet musically coherent. Those warm notes are like the sinews, holding it all together, and making it function as one. Resolution is high. Very high. Not the best I’ve ever heard, but absolutely not a weakness. In fact, I don’t know these headphones have a weakness. In every category I can think of, the SR1 performs beyond expectations.
I happen to have two other headphones on-hand within the same price range, and they each make great comparisons to iBasso’s offering.
The HIFIMAN Sundara ($500, Review HERE) is an awe-inspiring example of what can be accomplished today at this price-point. If you seek a more neutral, reference oriented signature, look no further. It is the very definition of neutral. No frequency stands above another. Despite what amateur graphs you may dig up on the net, Sundara is the real deal. I’ve never heard a flatter headphone. And that’s not usually my cup of tea. But Sundara, with its laid-back yet shockingly high-res presentation, really jives with me.
SendyAudio Aiva ($599, Review HERE) is much like Sundara, only less relaxed, with brighter treble. The bass, also, doesn’t quite feel as wholesome. In truth, there is a subtle artificiality to the whole character. At least that’s how I, in my pretension, hear it. But some will love it, as details jump out at you, and there’s altogether more energy. It may come off as clearer, and better resolved, but that’s more of an impression due to the tuning, rather than absolute truth. Either way, they are excellent performers, and if this suites your preference, they are hard to beat. Oh, and of course, they are dead gorgeous.
Since the iBasso SR1 is balanced so expertly, it will play well with just about any source you throw at it. If you enjoy its signature, there is little worry about pushing to too far into the warm or bright category. I found no source that paired poorly.
The iFi iDSD Pro ($2,499) is the DAC I used while writing up the sound impressions on the last page. It is… heavenly. Can you find a deeper, richer, more resolving source? I don’t know. But it matched the SR1 in the most perfect fashion. Using the vacuum tube output, and GTO filter, it highlighted all of the SR1’s best traits whilst delivering top-tier clarity. If you can afford it, this is the desktop DAC/Amp I would recommend to anyone. I shall miss it when I have to send it back.
For those who want to go mobile with the SR1, and are on a strict budget, the Hidizs AP80 ($139, Review HERE) handles matters surprisingly well. I am amazed by the ease with which it drives these cans. It sounds SO good. Gobs of clarity, stout note weight, and a fairly complete sense of depth. It is the best-sounding DAP within its pricing, and you won’t feel as if you’re sacrificing much in the way of quality.
Shanling’s M5s ($429, Review HERE) is the way to go if you’re looking to highlight the warmth and robust nature of the SR1. This is one of the most musical DAPs I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. Its smooth, analogue tuning takes these cans to a magical place. As I said at the top of this section, thanks to iBasso’s signature, you are saved from staying into muddy territory. There’s still tones of clarity and detail. However, the soundstage isn’t the widest with this system, so if that’s high on your priority list, you may wish to for a different player.
Of course, there are options for portability without compromise. But you’ll pay for it. The iBasso DX220 with AMP7 or AMP8 ($899 + $199) gives you damn near a desktop-like experience, but in your pocket. A great big soundstage, limitless clarity, and a full, dynamic sound that will leave you gobsmacked. Oh, and the SR1 scales up with a better source. The higher the quality you feed it, the more impressive they sound. But if you don’t quite have the coin for the DX220, consider the DX150 instead. With one of those high-current AMP modules, it makes a sweet budget alternative.
Well shit. I guess that’s a wrap. If the iBasso SR1 doesn’t sound like something you would enjoy, then I didn’t do a good job describing it. Even if your preference usually lay with another audio signature, I’m willing to bet the SR1 will put a smile on your face. They are simply and utterly pleasure to my ears. With all genres, and every source I paired them to, the SR1 sang sweet, clean, and powerful. iBasso created a modern marvel.