Despite dividing millions of impassioned audiophiles, earphones hide a dark secret: many of their components are virtually identical. As such where the real magic happens is in the applied sound signature, the fit and any other extras you may want, and it is here we find a new affordable champion…
The 'T15' is made by ACS, the company behind the remarkable 10 out of 10 T2 custom IEM. The T15 represents two firsts for the company, namely it is the first time ACS has made an earphone that is relatively affordable for the mass market and it is also the first time ACS has offered an earphone with a universal fit. These seem strange risks to take for a company famed for no compromise audio and unique soft silicon custom moulds, but they are risks which look set to pay off in spectacular style.
Unpack the T15 and the earpieces aren't much to look at. This is a compliment. Unlike so many earphones which have become akin to pushing lead bananas into your ears, the T15 earpieces are tiny. They weigh just 11g a piece and measure 15mm long. This means the majority of each earphone can fit right into your ear so their weight holds them in rather than hanging outside pulling them out. This makes them particularly good for runners and regular gym goers. The fit will also be sufficiently unobtrusive for some that, like the T2 and even the dedicated bedphones, the T15 can be worn side on against a pillow or train/plane seat.
In addition, while ACS supplies a range of different tips, what really stands out is its tweak of the classic triple flange design (a style many consumers we encounter normally like the least). Leveraging its custom expertise ACS has made the flange from the same medical grade silicon it uses in its high end monitors. This not only makes the tip softer and more comfortable than any other flange tips we've tried, but it moulds more tightly to the individual shape of your ear canal. The result is superb noise isolation (-26dB) and improved bass response, which can often be a little light with the single flange tips. We also like the addition of a tab at the back of the tip which makes the T15's easier to remove.
The T15 has one of the best cables we've seen on earphones of any price. As with its custom IEMs ACS has reinforced the cable with Kevlar threads and coated it with an anti-friction sheath which helps keep microphonics (the noise of cables knocking against clothing or such like) to a minimum. Meanwhile ACS fits a "custom pressed binder" that joins the two cables to guard against damage. We don't have the luxury of long term testing, but the join certainly seemed tougher than many. ACS has also wisely opted for a right angled plug (with gold-plated 3.5mm connector) which withstands pulling better than a straight plug and is the only sensible choice for devices like BlackBerrys and Sony Ericsson smartphones which place their headphone jacks on the side. The only obvious downside in all this is the lack of removable cables, thus if the cable breaks you can't just buy a new one, but ACS offers a cable repair service and at this price/performance level we can't complain.
A tasteful if rather oversized hard shell travelling case is provided too. We tend to find such robust cases a little impractical in day to day use and prefer a soft or semi-soft construction, but at least the design is simple, unlike some of the strangely elaborate examples we see.
A final clever touch is the use of coloured bands at the base of each tip to designate left and right earphones. Red corresponds to right ('R'ed) Blue (b'L'ue) to left making it easy to see at a glance which is which. This has been done before, but it isn't used nearly enough and really should be an industry standard to replace the tiny 'L' and 'R' symbols we have to strain our eyes to find on most earphones. That said, even better would be some raised markings or different textures which let you tell them apart by touch alone.