Even before the dawn of the iPod, back in the days of the portable compact disc player and cassette-based Walkman, in-ear headphones were already the most ubiquitous pieces of modern technology. Surprisingly, despite the endless competitors vying for marketplace supremacy, the earbud space is an area that's seen little in the way of innovation. Torque Audio's Z series t103z headphones, thankfully – and quite literally – mix things up a bit.
What sets the $179 headphones apart is the inclusion of three sets of TorqueValves, which are tone filters that can be screwed in and out of each earpiece, depending on your taste in music and general listening preferences. The red filter is the reference valve, and provides a flat, even response; the black filter is called the clear valve, meant to deliver crisp highs; the yellow filter is the deep valve, and emphasizes bass frequencies. Replacement valves are available for $20 apiece, with more tonal options being made available over time. Conveniently, the filters are stored by looping them into the included TorqueValet, which is essentially a small aluminum bar, with diagrams illustrating each filter's values.
While it may sound overly involved, it's a concept that actually proves gratifying. People simply have different listening preferences, and rather than having to shop for a pair of headphones that suits your particular ears, you can invest in a single pair of headphones and still find the sound that's right for you. It's easy to screw the filters on and off using the small included wrench, and you'll feel pretty cool doing a bit of your own manual tweaking.
Of course, the filters would mean very little if they screwed into substandard components. Naturally, that's not the case: t103z is a well-crafted, best-in-class headphone that's constructed from machined metal and contains 10mm dynamic drivers. There's an inline mic and remote built into the cord (the latter of which is compatible with iOS devices), and the package includes four sizes of silicone tips. The design is industrial modern, with metallic and bright orange accents at the ends of the black cables.
Even for those who have never fancied themselves audiophiles, it's easy to hear the differences between sounds produced with the t103z filters. Depending on your tastes, you'll find a preference for one over the others. And, much as when you're taking apart your bike for the first time, you'll be amazed at the insights you'll find lurking just beneath the surface. [$179; torque-audio.com]