Headphones are becoming more modular and customizable, and Torque Audio hopes its t096z earbuds will win you over with its bevy of options. These buds have a high-end design and six tuning filters that allow you to tease out the best qualities of whatever genre of music you're listening to. At $349, these earbuds aren't cheap, but they let you hear exactly what you want to hear while providing solid overall quality.
The Torque Audio t096z earbuds have an industrial look, featuring a brass housing on the buds and a silvery copper-coated cord. The bud backs are circular and smooth to the touch, and the opening in which you place the different tuning filters has a siliconelike removable flap, to protect the innards of the buds when you don't have a filter installed.
The wires are coated in thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and have nylon ribbons swirling through them, providing flexibility and strength. They've got a sturdier feel than regular earbud cords, which helped them avoid tangling when I rolled them up and stuffed them in my gym bag.
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The inline remote sits on the left wire. The silver Torque logo in the middle acts as the multifunction button, and the volume rocker is built into the plastic surrounding it. All of the remote features work for iPhone users, though Android users can only use the multifunction button.
Comfort and Fit
The Torque t096z buds come with one pair of foam inserts and five silicone ear inserts, two of which are tiered domes. I like the security and fit of the foam inserts, but I stuck with the largest pair of the regular silicone tips for comfort and convenience. During many commutes and workouts, these buds stayed put, although I did have to readjust them a few times when I felt them getting a little loose.
The Torque t096z earbuds have impressive audio quality, to say the least. I tried all six tuning filters - reference (red), deep (yellow), clear (black), balanced (green), smooth (blue) and bliss (purple) - listening to the same six songs across genres, including rock, pop, jazz, classic and electronic.
I was shocked at how different each tuning filter sounded: for example, the reference filters played flat yet true sounds, with definition between the instruments and the vocals. However, they weren't as lively as the smooth filters, which were richer and more balanced.
Despite their differences, I appreciated that each tuning filter didn’t diminish from the overall quality of the music. Take the bliss and clear tuning filters, both of which are designed to be ideal for jazz songs. I listened to Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" on both, and on the bliss filter, it felt like I was sitting in a cafe listening to the airy horns and the smooth pianos being played right in front of me.
The clear filters had a similar effect, but the entire track was a tad louder, with more robust horns, richer pianos and individual depth from all the instruments. I could also hear the white noise in the background of the track through the clear filters, whereas that noise was lost in the bliss filters.
The balanced and smooth filters duked it out as my overall favorite - and it was a close fight. I listened to Fall Out Boy's "Fourth of July," and while both tuning filters made the song sound loud and robust, the balanced filters had slightly stronger bass.
I could also hear all the small breaths Patrick Stump makes in between lines, and the flutes in the bridge fluttered in the background like birds. The smooth filter simply played a more toned-down version of the track, with better defined vocals and softer bass. After being spoiled by booming bass and cherry highs, I had to stick with the balanced filters for the rest of my listening.
I prefer the t096z earbuds to the $199 RHA t10i earbuds, not only because they come with six filters, while the RHA's come with three, but also because the difference between Torque's filters is much more noticeable. The songs I listened to changed drastically when I changed the tuning filters, whereas doing the same thing on the RHA's produced only nuanced differences.
Even if they only came with one tuning filter, the Torque t096z earbuds would be solid music makers. However, their six interchangeable knobs set them apart from the competition, even from the similarly designed RHA t10is. They offer impressive audio quality in a sleek package, with a level of personality not seen in other earbuds. Customization and choice don't come cheap with these buds, but for those who want a fine level of control over their music, the Torque t096z earbuds are worth the price. Currently Torque Audio is selling these earbuds on its Kickstarter page for $225, and they will retail for $330.