1MORE IBFree AptX Bluetooth IEMs: One More Excellent Headphone From Luca Bignardi And Crew

Pros:  Balanced sound, good precision for the price, clear mids, tight bass, attractive colours, excellent battery life

Cons: Can have some tin in the cymbal strikes, no carrying pouch, fit will be a problem for some, stock tips not secure for active use (need Comply)

List Price: $50 (Penon Audio, affiliate link)

Product Website: https://usa.1more.com/products/ibfree-bluetooth-in-ear-headphones

1MORE iBFree

Rating Disclaimer: ratings are subjective. Audio quality and value do not mean the same thing across all prices. A headphone with a 5 rating on audio at $5 does not have equivalent sound quality as a 5 rating at $500. Likewise, value at $5 is not the same as value at $5000 dollars.

Introduction

Bluetooth is weird. There are a good many people who have stood on the position that all we need to hear is 320kbps MP3s. If this is so, than nobody needs the headphone jack and Apple has it right in getting rid of the archaic technology. Surely we should get rid of all technology that is more than 100 years old. My doorknob needs to be retired, as does my toilet. I don’t know what I’ll replace them with, but they are old technology, so they need to go—or so the marketing would have us believe. The billion dollar question is whether we need the wires.

I’ve reviewed several Bluetooth headphones now, and I’ve used 4 different transmitters during these reviews. I have generally found that wired performance is better than Bluetooth performance, but it isn’t night and day. On the go, in loud environments, Bluetooth may be preferable—you won’t hear the full fidelity of your music anyway.

The 1MORE iBFree is one of many Bluetooth headphones out there that use the aptX codec. For the purpose of this review, I think it is important that we understand what this means. According to a 2016 What HiFi? article, AptX HD Bluetooth: What is it? How can you get it?, aptX is a coding algorithm created in the 80s that was popular with film studios and radio broadcasters. AptX claims to be able to play ‘CD-like’ audio quality, but when we examine what this means. ‘CD-like’ is 352kbps lossy music. It isn’t much better than the best quality MP3s. AptX HD, the new poorly supported standard (only a couple headphones, not many transmitters), boasts a bitrate of 576kbps, and has the ability to play 24-bit/48kHz audio—it’s still compressed and lossy, but higher quality lossy. Qualcomm also claims lower distortion in the mids and treble regions—that would be spiffy. I’m not sure I get the point of aptX HD yet, but I’ll find out in the near future.

If you don’t have aptX you have a codec called SBC (subband coding). The Headphone List has an article that should be required reading for anyone thinking about their upcoming Bluetooth purchase. According to the linked article, SBC plays at a bitrate of 328kbps at a 44.1kHz sampling rate (at maximum quality), but with worse audio quality than a top quality 320kbps MP3. If you have an Apple device you may get AAC, which is designed to sound better than MP3 at similar bitrates.

The catch in all of this is that your ears will only get to hear the best codec that your transmitter and your receiver (the headphone) are capable of producing. If you are wielding an iPhone, aptX is just marketing, you don’t have it. If your phone doesn’t use it like the ZTE Axon 7, your aptX headphones will default to whatever quality SBC the phone is programmed to play—it might not be that 328kpbs high quality bitrate. Beyond this, headphones with aptX aren’t necessarily better. I have an Aukey Bluetooth USB dongle that has aptX low latency, but my older Avantree SBC only BTTC-200 is better sounding with less noise. My new Avantree Priva II transmitter is better than the Aukey also. Both Avantree transmitters sound better than my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has aptX.

Another factor plays into whether your Bluetooth set-up sounds any good. Unlike your wired headphones, your Bluetooth headphones have the Bluetooth receiver, a DAC and an amplifier (as well as batteries) in the earpiece(s) or attached to the earpiece(s). The quality of those components may mitigate the quality of your source. If the amplification isn’t clean to the drivers, your source isn’t really going to matter too much.

Wireless is just a lot more complicated than wired headphones. With wired headphones you know exactly what you are getting in the signal chain much of the time. This isn’t the case with Bluetooth headphones most of the time.

Usability: Form & Function

The packaging is simple and functional for the iBFree, a simple white box with perfectly tailored compartments. I found the accessories underwhelming, though, for several reasons. First, there was no pouch for the headphones. I like to keep my headphones protected. Luckily I bought a couple spare case/pouches so I’ve had something to keep these from getting mucked about too much when I toss them in my bag. Second, I couldn’t get a good fit with the included tips.

The iBFree is very large right behind the nozzle, and the nozzle is not very long. For me this means that the body of the headphone was competing for space with the structure of my ear. In order to have proper fit, and in order to pass what I call the doggy shake test, I had to use either Comply Isolate tips (I think the 500 variety), or Spinfit’s new double flange tip (CS220, methinks). I don’t think most people buying a sport Bluetooth headphone will expect to need aftermarket tips. Also, the Comply tips were the best fit, but they would be a bad idea for sports use. Mmm, nothing like foamies dripping oversaturated salty sweat down your ear canal.

With the stock tips, shaking my head from side to side like a shaggy dog drying off dislodges the tips easily—this is with the sport grips perfectly in place. Switching to the CP220, side to side movement loosens the headphone, but it doesn’t fly out. With the Comply Isolates, the IEM stays firmly in place.

I’m also not a fan of the inside vent on these headphones. If you twist the headphone wrong, your sport grip will cover over the vent. The manual even has a diagram telling you not to do this. I was able to avoid occluding this tiny little dot on the inner part of the headphone, but I think this design can be improved.

With regards to range, I was able to get about 20 feet away, with some office walls—real world testing—getting in the way before signal broke down badly. At about 15 feet there was some instability. Bluetooth performance depends heavily on the transmitter, so some may find that they get better than what I’ve gotten with these, some may do worse.

I got the full advertised 8 hours of playback and charging was quick, only an hour or so. Pairing is easy and they have a good manual to walk you through all the controls. I didn’t test the water resistance of these, but I can confirm that the USB cover firmly plugs into place. I think these will do just fine in your sweaty workout, assuming that they stay in when you go all shaggy sheep dog shake on them. For running or other up and down activities, I think fit will be less problematic. These probably won’t be great for dance or gymnastic parties, but exhibitionist park joggers will be fine.

Oxford times

Audio quality

For a single driver Bluetooth IEM at the price on offer, these sound exceptional. I hooked these up with a number of DAPs using the Avantree Priva II as my transmitter (it’s aptX low latency and excellent sounding). It sounded good with the Priva II, but the Note 2 is a lousy audio source, it’s muddy and awful in wired configuration and muddy and awful in Bluetooth, relative to real dedicated DAP and DACs at least. The Note 2 is probably better than a bucket of mud—I haven’t tested this scientifically.

Toronto Sun

I tested this with the LH Labs GO2A Infinity, the iBasso DX50, the Cyberdrive Clarity Feather DAC and the HiFiMAN SuperMini. Now I’m aware that the final DAC and amplifier are in the headphones, but it has been my experience that if you are using a USB dongle, the power of the amplifier and the quality of the DAC/Amp feeding the dongle do affect sound quality and useable volume range. If you put good stuff in, you are far more likely to get good stuff out.

The iBFree has a clean balanced sound. The sound reminds me quite a lot of the 1MORE E1001 Triple Driver, but without the bass lift, which is quite an accomplishment with two less drivers to work with. The iBFree is not as airy and has a smaller soundstage, but it accomplishes some of what the advertising speak on the UK 1MORE site claims. The sound has present bass with good quality, if not a ton of quantity. The mids are clear, precise and tonally balanced. Treble has good extension, but sometimes cymbals can sound a bit thin. Overall the treble is pleasing with no harshness. Violins are sharp when called for, but not piercing. These are really very capable dynamic drivers.

When listening to Sibelius’s 5th symphony from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in DSD, the strings soar, but don’t have tons of separation. Musicality is preserved and the presentation is excellent, but it lacks the huge soundstage necessary to really knock Sibelius’s 5th symphony out of the park.

These are really natural sounding. I think that Luca Bignardi might be a magician or a renaissance man. A renaissance magician? I think pointy hats are all the rave with both of them. He’s good, whatever way you think about him. You don’t win four Grammys if you suck. All the 1MORE gear has his signature imprinted on it, and now I find myself wanting to go get albums he’s been associated with because his sound is clear and natural, for the most part, with the EO323 being a little bit of a departure.

When listening to the new Chesky 30th Anniversary Collection—go get it, it’s the good stuff, real black tar kind of stuff—every track sounds beautifully open and natural. Some of that is the recording, but the iBFree do a good job keeping pace too. You’ll need rehab after listening to this pentuple length album.

When putting on my speed test track: Animals as Leaders – Ka$cade, it mostly keeps up, but does smooth out some details. Also, the cymbals still sound thin.

One difference between wired and Bluetooth headphones is noise floor. You can take a wired headphone down to basically no noise floor with the right equipment in hand. You can’t change out the amplifier on Bluetooth headphones, so the noise floor that is in them is what you are stuck with. These have an audible noise floor. It isn’t offensive, but you will hear snakes hissing in the grass that aren’t really there from time to time.

Comparisons

Compared to the Ausdom M05 full size aptX capable Bluetooth headphone, the 1MORE iBFree have a smaller soundstage in all dimensions, but have far more precise bass with none of the somewhat woolly midbass bloat that can afflict the Ausdom M05. The M05 is more airy with a bigger sound. The iBFree is more focused and precise.

The Syllable D700-2017 have a more closed in mid-centric signature that is soft and smooth like an ermine throw, and probably just as ethically produced. The sound of the Syllable is very fit dependent, and the fit on these makes it difficult for the bass to show up loud and proud. The drivers on the Syllables aren’t fast enough to handle Ka$cade’s busier parts well. The mids get really muggy and woolly with all the finer details just collapsing out of the mix. These need calmer music.

Overall the 1MORE iBFree held up very favourably to the competition I threw at it. The sound is more precise than the Ausdom and more technically capable than the Syllable by a long distance.

Specifications

Specifications
Driver Single titanium coated PET dynamic driver
Water resistance IPX4 sweat-proof
Bluetooth codecs aptX, SBC
Bluetooth range 30ft
Battery life Standby 240 hours, Talk 10 hours, Music 8 hours [confirmed]
Colours Vibrant Red, Space Gray, Aqua Blue, Apple Green
Accessories 3 sets of single flange silicone tips (S, M, L), 3 sets of sport grips (S, M, L), micro USB charging cable
Manual It’s available online, sweet.

Acknowledgement

The iBFree was provided free of charge by 1MORE UK. Their site was down when this was posted on audioprimate. I have not been compensated for the review and the views expressed here are my own.

This review originally appeared on Head-Fi. It has had some updating to fit with Audio Primate style.

Conclusions

The 1MORE iBFree is good value with a clear, coherent sound that did well with all the music I threw at it. It has neutral bass and mids performance with a little bit of treble roll off. Details are generally presented well. The iBFree isn’t flawless. It doesn’t have a large soundstage, has a little bit of tin smack going on with some cymbals, and can smooth over some details in particularly fast musical passages. Beyond audible limitations, the headphone may have fit issues for some, as it did for me. I was able to correct fit issues by using aftermarket tips, but the market this product is targeted at may not find that an acceptable solution. These headphones are excellent value and should be quite popular among folks wielding jackless iPhone 7’s and later, it is likely to be better than Apple or Beats’ in-house sound.

Overall, I think the positives of these headphones outweigh the negatives by a significant margin. I  recommend the iBFree. If it had a bit better fit with the stock options, this would be rated higher.

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