IEMs, Reviews

REVIEW: IMR R1 Zenith – Big, Bold and Brash

REVIEW: IMR R1 Zenith – Big, Bold and Brash

The other stuff

I mentioned earlier that I found the Zenith while searching for an IEM with a wide soundstage (being the HD800 addict that I am), and in this regard the Zenith doesn’t disappoint. As a ‘semi’ open IEM it does well in adding air to most tracks, although it still has the typical ‘in-your-head’ sound of most IEMs. Stage width is impressive, with some sound emanating well beyond your ears, but what it has in width it lacks in depth. I’d compare the Zenith’s stage to an oblong pancake – wide at the extremes, but almost paper thin. 

Owl City’s ‘The Saltwater Room’ is sweet, melodic electronica pop, with both male and female vocals and range of instruments and effects. It has a wide and lush presentation that, with great headphones, you can almost walk around and explore. Unfortunately, the stage of the Zenith is shallow, and all you have for relief is the above average width. That means many of the effects crowd the middle of the stage and overwhelm the vocals, and are themselves overwhelmed by the instruments that are almost always pushed forward louder than the vocals. This track needs subtlety in its delivery and the Zenith is anything but subtle. 

On most tracks imaging is decent, and instrument separation is fair (unless there are too many instruments playing at the same time). On spartan tracks like Made in Heights’s ‘Viices’, instruments and effects lend themselves to the Zenith’s clean and punchy presentation, and the vocals, not crowded by instruments, are distinct and sweet. If this is your type of music, the Zenith has plenty to offer. 

Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Story’ is another great example of what the Zenith does very well. Brandi has such a complex, textured voice that it takes great control to render it properly. Zenith almost gets there…and then the drums hit at 0:53 and the guitars at 0:58 and you forget about Brandi and just lose yourself in the melee. That can be good or bad, depending on how you like your alt-country-folksy-rocky music.

I’ll give it this, Zenith renders The Story with bags of emotion. It’s all in-your-face and extreme, but your feet will be tapping and your ears will be ringing and you’ll know you’ve been listening to a seriously potent IEM. 

Closing thoughts

Breaking the Zenith’s sound into small, digestible descriptions is almost impossible. Give me five songs and five filters, and I’ll give you a dozen different impressions. That means the Zenith is always likely to do something right, some of the time, and I found plenty to enjoy with it while flicking through my music library. 

This is a headbanger’s perfect IEM. It looks like something forged on a Mad Max movie set, with rubbery, snake-like cables and muted colouring adding to its steampunk allure. It’s not an IEM I would choose to kick back on the sofa and relax with a glass of wine, but give me a high-speed road chase and I’ll pop these babies in for maximum adrenaline. 

For the asking price the Zenith isn’t cheap, and although the package is decent and the quality of materials and workmanship top-notch, the value really depends on what you want from your IEMs, and what music you’re planning to use them with. I wouldn’t want the Zenith as my only IEM, because even with its array of filters and tip options, there’s no neutral in its gearbox. Even the flattest (blue) filter is not as linear or refined when compared to multi-driver IEMs that have better resolution and finesse.

If you love your bass, and I mean really love your bass, the Zenith is well worth the investment, if only to hear what two miniature metal and ceramic drivers are actually capable of. It outdoes my HD800 (easily) and Auteur with the sheer size of its bass, and while the quality doesn’t quite compare to the desktop headphones, the quantity and control is nothing short of impressive. 

It’s a pity the same can’t be said for the mids and treble, which can be good – excellent in fact – but too often err on the wrong side of strident. However, if you’re not particularly sensitive to glare in your upper mids, and enjoy the occasional grating guitar, this may not be factor. 

One thing’s for sure, once you’ve heard a Zenith you’ll know all about it! 

Up next for IMR is a fully-open IEM called the R2 Aten, with an even bigger driver and a choice of five bass filters and six treble nozzles. Expect it to be a real sonic medusa, and I wish Bob the best as he continues to swim against the tide in search of his perfect sound. If I’m fortunate enough to get a pair, I’ll be sure to come back here and tell you all about it.