I can tell you within 10 seconds of listening whether a pair of headphones are good or garbage — and, sadly, there’s a lot of junk out there. If a set of cans makes it past that 10-second mark, it only takes another minute or so for me to determine whether I want to explore deeper. But once I get past 90 seconds, I know it will take hours of intent listening to sort out the minutiae of a headphone’s sound signature. And at this point I will invariably run into the same trap: The headphones will sound excellent for one type of music, but make me wish for less of this or more of that with other types of music. And it’s this persistent conundrum that headphone maker, Torque, set out to eliminate.
With its modular headphone design, Torque has taken a huge step toward making what I like to think of as the Chameleon of headphones — a product which can be adjusted to sound just the way you want it to, no matter the genre of music. It’s a brilliant idea, and with just $4,000 left to raise in 43 days on its Kickstarter page, it looks like Torque’s vision will successfully move out of the prototype phase and into the hands of a hungry headphone-loving public.
We took a few days to play around with Torque’s t402v on-ear/over-ear headphones and t096v earbuds (and we do mean play, it’s a lot of fun swapping out pieces and experimenting with the sound) and we have to say: Torque is really onto something here.
Here’s how the headphones work. With the t402v, you get two pair of interchangeable, rotatable earpads, one set of on-ear, the other over-ear. On the inside of each earpad are four different color-coded filters, each capable of altering the headphone’s sound in different ways, mostly by increasing or reducing bass. The earpads are magnetically affixed, so making a change is as easy as pulling a pad off, rotating it, and popping it back on.
The in-ear versions work a little differently. Rather than change earpads, users change the “valves,” or filters, for each earbud. Each filter does more or less the same as the aforementioned earpads, with six different color-coded filters available. It does take some practice to pull off and replace the silicone eartips (of which there are multiple sizes and styles to choose from) but with that little maneuver under your fingers, swapping out filters takes 30 seconds at most.
We’re plenty impressed with the products’ build quality so far. There’s no way Torque could pull off an interchangeable parts design if the parts couldn’t stand up to repeated screwing and unscrewing, removal and replacement. The t402v are clearly robust, with a heft that lets you know they’re road worthy. The t096v, too, have a nice bit of weight to them, and the filters slot into the earbuds’ threads with precision. Even the cable feels as if it could take repeated tugging and not fall to pieces.
That well-steeled build quality doesn’t result in a utilitarian aesthetic, though. Rather, both the earbuds and headphones have a modern look, with just a touch of class, making them suitable as a fashion accessory, too — a requisite in today’s unwritten headphone cookbook.
Of course, that kind of quality comes at a price. To get in on the t096v, you’ll need to pony up $175 for the early bird special, then the price goes up to $225– a premium price for a pair of earbuds to be sure. The t402v beg a slightly more wallet-sapping $250 bid on early bird, then $300 once those are gone.
As for the sound: I had a blast with the t096v in-ear headphones. The dynamic drivers, which provide the sonic foundation the filters aim to alter, are clearly of good quality, capable of excellent bass extension, and articulate treble that avoids harshness or undue sibilance. Our experience with the t402v on-ear/over-ear hybrid was a little more mixed. We liked almost every option with the over-ear pads, but felt the on-ear pads dampened the treble a bit much. But then, these are prototype models, and Torque explained to us that the sound signature is still in its final phases of voicing, and that what we were left hungry for will be served right up in the final version.
If that’s the case, than Torque has itself a killer product on its hands, one we think will change what people expect from their headphones. We wouldn’t be surprised if Torque’s success winds up re-shaping the headphone industry entirely. Time will tell, but to be sure, this is not just another Johnny-come-lately — Torque’s got the chops to churn out top-notch products, and we look forward to seeing where their initial successes take them in the future.