Crossroads Quattro Earphones in Review – Portable, unique, and tough
Crossroads – of MylarOne fame, have kept busy in the last couple of years, and somewhat recently, debuted the Quattro, an aluminium-bodied inner earphone with sites set high, but which remain at the almost reasonable price of 88$. Since they are only available at one place: Jaben.net, you will have to get your fingers suited up for a surf to the legendary Singaporean retailer. Word has it that Uncle Wilson (Jaben’s administrator) is trying out a 700-800$ cable upgrade for the world’s most advanced custom earphone, the Jerry Harvey 13Pro – an earphone which TMA should have in hand next month.
Crossroads earphones have been a popular choice among budget conscious audiophiles and there is good reason: they use advanced drivers that sound good, so good in fact, that some people have sold their more costly earphones from bigger names.
|Driver||7 mm Mylar Speaker|
|Sensitivity||95 ± 4dB/mW|
|Frequency Response||20Hz – 22KHz|
|Max Input Power||10mW|
|Plug||3.5 mm (fits iPhone 2G)|
|Cable Length||1,25 metres|
Inside the slim cardboard box, the Quattro comes neatly packed with 3 user-selectable bass ports, an airline adapter, toss pouch, 5 pairs of silicon flanges, and a shirt clip. Crossroads’ flanges come in two different flavours (figure of speech of course): single and double flange, and each is well made and comfortable enough for extended listening sessions. While Head-Direct’s RE2 take the cake for quality packaging, the simple cardboard that Crossroads supply the Quattro in is attractive and a far cry from the finger-tearing plastic supplied with other vendor’s earphones.
Crossroad’s toss pouch is excellent. While not as high quality as a Westone or EarSonics products, the Quattro is amply protected in a thin zippered pouch with side pockets for extra tips and spare bass ports.
The Quattro is uniquely designed, especially when taken in the context of sub-100$ earphones. The three ports represent levels of bass impact; 3 being the least and 1 being the most. This system effectively gives you three different tastes: allowing you to tailor your earphones to your music. The technology is simple, but effective: low notes can vibrate more when they are put into a larger, easy-to-breathe chamber. The smaller the chamber, the smaller the bass response. Each bass port opens at the butt-end of the screw. 1 is fully open, meaning that bass response isn’t curtailed in any venue, and as such, also isolates the least. The open design of port 1 also has a slightly wider sound stage. Neither 2 nor 3 are fully open, rather, the butt end of the screw has a hollowed out chamber in port 2. 3 covers this chamber with a cloth tab for further bass-dampening. 2 is a happy thought in between the sometimes overpowering bass of port 1 and the more nuetral port 3.
While the overall sonic character changes between ports, it is not as dramatic as buying a completely different headphone. Since the drivers are the same, the ports act similarly to passive equalisers. Of course, deciding which works for you will be the fun part. I started with bass port 1 (my ancestors ran around naked carrying axes; they looted, killed and raped – I don’t start out a powder puff), but ended up most satisfied with port 3 for the majority of music.
Crossroads chose anodised aluminium for the Quattro’s housing finished with a semi-flexible rubber cuff, near the butt of the earphone, just before bass ports. Unlike some other inner earphones, the sound nozzle too, is aluminium – a fact that adds to the Quattro’s strength and also, the visual bling bling. Though thick aluminium, the Quattro remains light and due to its slim design, manoeuvrable.
Finally, Quattro’s driver is bared to the elements, unprotected via grill or filter. While this may aid in exercising some extra high-frequency detail in music, users should be careful to not let anything fall into the sound tube; or you know, refrain from poking needles into it.
Cable and Plug
Sadly, not everything is well-constructed. The Quattro cable is at times beautiful; its plug termination is slim, elegantly angled, and fits into the recessed headphone port of the iPhone 2G. However, other than the headphone jack’s stress relief (which hasn’t been properly shrunk onto the cable), there are no bumpers or other protection along the cables length. At the earphone end, the rubber cuff extends out into a short 4mm sleeve that will help not to bend, however, it is only a feeble attempt at support.
The cable is microphonic, though because it is softer, not as bad as the RE2. However, it is frequently tangled, loud, and for walking about, can be quite noisy and annoying. For this reason, Crossroads include a shirt-clip which helps rein in the Quattro’s cable energy. Also, there is a long cincher above the y-split that helps with microphonics, and especially when worn over the ear, keeps the cable from jumping away from your ears. However, it slides both up and down a bit too easily and may need the help of a twisty-tie to stay in place.
At 1,25 metres, the Quattro’s length is perfect for both sitting around, and for the commute. Unless you are 3 metres tall, you won’t fuss with its length; fitting it into a purse or pocket is perfect.
Onto the Music!
Because the Quattro is a versatile earphone, it can match with many genres very well. For music that needs more warmth, simply change to a smaller number port, and for music that is in need of more clarity, do the reverse.
Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call(UK) Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call (AUS)
While still brooding and dark, this Cave album is wrought with an unkempt soul and melody. It could be considered a signature work that pulls listeners into the ballad-full lair of alternative’s godfather. In order to do it right, headphones need the right attitude in order to beautify Cave’s sometimes lustless music.
Yelle – Pop Up – Version Deluxe
Yelle is everything to all people – maybe. She is pop, but has her hand in rock and the speedy lanes of electronic music. Ce Ju and Les Femmes hit with hard bass, but are well controlled songs with a great focus and vocal energy. The boppy beats are of course, ripe for the remixing.
MC Solaar – Mach 6
Mach 6 is simply a phenomenal album. A mix of Pop and hip hop with great bass, lusty lyrics and fast singing, it is a benchmark for a historied genre. MC Solaar’s voice is silky and yet quick – splendid with the right earphone. La vie est belle and Introspectionremain my benchmarks for hip-hop because of their pace, melody and quick instrumental work.
Markus Schulz – Progression
This first albums is a sheer masterpiece. I bought it from the Canadian iTunes store just after release and have been amazed by the the American trance DJ’s maturity in his first release. Strong melodies, a good balance of vocal and progressive trance, this album may be considered a masterpiece. Track 5, Mainstage, has some of the deepest bass lines its opening seconds of any track in my library. Some phones simply don’t render the bass at all as they cannot reach down low enough – this song has been a benchmark for me for over a year.
The Quattro is no slouch. It responds quickly, presents an open stage and allows for great customisation within music genres. Detail in music comes in many flavours: bass, treble, mid, spacial, etc.. The Quattro, as with all inner earphones, is of course, affected by ear piece selection, but is more heavily affected by the use of different ports. I found that every port has decent treble and bass extension, body, and yet, maintains a mediocum of detail; to a lesser degree, each also propagates good internal echo characteristics. After generating a 20 Hz sine wave, I can vouch that indeed, the Quattro can hit basement level bass, however, its 16 ohm may be hard for most DAP to drive to such low frequencies.
All of that is really a preamble to the overall sound of the Quattro. Its driver is capable of outputting a great amount of bass, especially with port 1, but even the other ports are highly reactive in the low-frequencies. Port 1, being the warmest is probably best for emotional tracks and albums whilst the other two, for music that relies on a more balanced signature. That said, port 1 is the most open sounding, presenting the widest stage and greatest sense of space.
Because spacial detail and a wide stage usually pair very well with music that doesn’t need as much bass, it is an interesting combination; interesting, but maybe not ideal. With the above musical samples, the Quattro plays along nicely. It does not smear bass even with some faster trance tracks on Progression, nor harshly render the natural bass lines in Nick Cave. However, no matter the port selection, the Quattro’s bass, tangible and well extended, suffers a paucity of detail; bass is simply not as crisp or resonant as many other phones, including other Crossroads’ products.
Mids and treble are, as ever, harder to define. Would a voice be called high frequency when it barely tips the frequency chart toward 20 KHz? Would cymbals in today’s dynamically compressed music be considered treble? Or, with a great part of their detail and extension lost from album mastering, could they be considered mid? If you want to answer these questions, the Quattro is not your phone. It is meticulously constructed and will outlast your family members, your house and your other earphones, but it is not articulate; neither bass nor treble are lush and mids are equally as tepid.
Instruments, voices, echos, and reverbs are clearly audible. But, they lack distinction from one another; each tends to blend together. Music that relies heavily on vocals sounds good, mind you, but it hardly wows the listener. The Quattro’s presentation is an anomaly: it isn’t a detailed, nor a nitpicky sound, but neither is it emotional. Voices exist, get their message across and co-operate with bass and high frequencies, but don’t advertise themselves to their advantage.
As for sound stage, the Quattro is better than some competitor’s products, but leaves a bit to be desired. Depending on port selection – port 1 being the most open; 3 being the least – sound can extend well to the side of the listener and well enough to the front to present a good psycho-acoustic rendition of location, distance and pace. But, the chamber is not designed to bring instruments’ echo, reverb and resonance to the listener in 3D spacial terms. I cannot fault the Quattro, as its aim is to be a versatile listen, not an overly detailed design.
Out and About with the Quattro
Depending on the bass port, commuting with your new purchase can be great. Personally, microphonics aside, I find the Quattro to be excellent. Cable length contributes to an easy tote and the flexible cable hasn’t the propensity to catch on fabric. But, if you have to frequently unroll the earphones and place them again neatly in the toss-pouch, you will find their affinity for tangling – annoying. However, this is par for the competition. Quattro’s accessories are far better than Ultimate Ears’ and, while not offering as resilient a cable, allow the listener to enjoy music with fewer ‘duff duff’ microphonic intrusions.
Of course, wearing the earphone with the cable looped over the ear reduces microphonics greatly and in combination with the cinch clider, and shirt clip, is a great way to enjoy music without too much touch noise. Port 1, bassiest and least isolated, will let in some wind noise due to its open design. Port 2 and 3 do not let wind in at all. There is one other problem that I have not experienced, but is making rounds on internet: Port 3’s cloth filter (the only difference between it and port 2) may when removing or screwing into place, come off. Be careful when changing ports, or develop your own way to affix the filter if it comes off. As far as isolation is concerned, the Quattro is not going to shut out the tube, the tram or the bus unless you listen to music at dangerously loud volumes. The tips are meant for comfort and durability and will attenuate an estimated 15db when in combination with ports 2 or 3, but nothing on par with deely inserted, fully closed designs.
Again, I don’t feel that this was an implicit aim of the Quattro’s designers. I am fully satisfied with performance whilst out-and-about with the Quattro.
In summary, the Quattro impresses itself as an earphone experiment more than a full-fledged production-level product. Its body construction is phenomenal, vaunting a unique bass port design that allows passive equalisation of bass and attenuation of soundstage. But, its sound is not up to par with most peers in its price category. The RE2 betters it unless your aim is sheer bass quantity. The Quattro’s own, cheaper cousins harbour more melodic tones, and for an 88$ earphone, its cable is only so-so. Saying that, the entire package is impressive. The toss pouch is spot on, fitting all essentials and can be easily pocketed even into slim trousers. The package also has enough goodies to be useful to most listeners, and even the jet-setter.
If you are after a unique product that is well-made and comes with a delectable accessory kit, at 88$, the Quattro is a good buy. It sounds good, but not great and will last a long time, provided that you don’t aggrivate its stress points. Kudos to Crossroads for the slim line plug that works as easily in the modern iPhone 3GS as it does in the 2G model’s recessed headphone jack.
The package is worth 88$, but, it won’t satisfy the demanding listener who craves one of the following: detail, sonorous voicing, or forward mids and/or treble. All things considered, the Crossroads Quattro slips out of TMA with a Tap.