JA tapped my shoulder: “Do you like headphones?”
“You know I do!” I enthused.
“OK. Give me just a second.”
John Atkinson is never this mysterious. It must be something awesome.
He returned with four boxes and plopped them on my desk, “Here you go!” and walked away with an evil smirk. What the dickens?
A British colleague of JA’s had just sent him various samples of Quarkie’s new in-ear headphone collection. These in-ears rest gently inside your ears with fun animals and objects that poke out. Models include the Viper Head, Cat Eye, Rusty Bolt, Snake Eye, Gemstone, and Chameleon Eye.
While it’s certainly tempting to make alliterated jokes like “the Viper Head’s have hissy highs” or “the Rusty Bolt maintained a metallic midrange”, the truth is these things didn’t sound as terrible as those jokes may imply. The Quarkie’s delivered an airy and musical presentation. In addition, the leading edges of instruments were exciting and textural. On Squarepusher's "Tomorrow World", this accentuation brought out the wah-wah bounce in the phaser on the bass.
Yet, these exciting leading transients were accompanied by strident highs, particularly with distorted electric guitars and whistly electronic noises. On Paul White's "The Doldrums", there was an emphasis on the high pitched washy synthesizers rather than the rich bass and midrange samples that keep the groove chunky.
Depth of bass response was entirely dependent on the tightness of the seal, which at times was difficult to maintain as some of the Viper Head’s weight tilted towards the outside of one’s ear. I had to grip the snakes by their jaws and press them into my ears to get deeper bass response. Snake wrangling for better sound. Who knew?
When comparing the Rusty Bolt to the Viper Head, I found the Rusty Bolt to present a clearer balance with a touch more depth on both Dream Theater’s “Take the Time” and “Yahweh” by 2nd Chapter of Acts featuring Phil Keaggy and a Band Called David. Both headphones exhibited hollow and ringy highs leading to some distortion in the background vocals during “Yahweh”.
These headphones are available for $109 from Quarkie’s website. For $109 (Footnote 1) I can’t recommend the Quarkies to someone looking for their next solid budget in-ear, but as a fun gift, the Quarkie headphones could give your hi-fi buds a chuckle as they did here in the Stereophile office.
Footnote 1: 4/19/13 - I spoke with the new US Quarkie distributor who has just set-up the Quarkie USA website (here) and is selling these funny ear-buddies for $59.95. This justifies their role in the market as both a great gift and something funky to keep around a bit more than the +$100 price.