I have a warm spot in my heart for Torque Audio. In an industry full of “me too” products, this small headphone company has managed to be different with their customizable t096z earphones and t402v headphones. A couple of months ago, they sent me a pair of the new AMHE303 Mercedes-Benz Limited Edition X Torque in-ear headphones (earphones) to try and review. There are two interesting things about these earphones—they are available only through Mercedes-Benz dealers and catalog and they are based on the upcoming version 2 of Torque’s original t103z earphones. So it’s like getting a preview of what Torque has up its sleeve for 2017.
It’s quite a coup for Torque to partner with Mercedes resulting in a Mercedes-Benz branded earphone. The AMHE303 earphones are as classy looking as an S-Class sedan with machined chrome earpieces wrapped in a subtle gray accent color. They even have the iconic tri-star logo printed on each earpiece. The gray accent color certainly looks better than the original t103z earphone’s off-putting orange accent color.
Torque states that the newer AMHE303 earphones have new and faster 10mm drivers and housing that will show up later in the revised t103z earphone. Being faster simply means that the drivers can “recover” from sound vibrations quicker which can result in more accurate reproduction of music. While there is a clearer musical presentation when compared to the t103z, the difference is not as great as when compared to Torque’s flagship t402v earphones, which are better (and more expensive) in every way.
Along with the improved drivers, the AMHE303 earphone has a carrying case taken from torque’s more expensive t096z earphone. There are 5 choices of silicone ear tips with a silicone stabilizer ring for in-ear support. I find the rings more trouble than they’re worth, and never use them. There is also a pause/play button built into the cord.
The AMHE303 earphone setup is identical with all of Torque’s earphones. Included are three sets of audio filters—Torque calls them valves—that adjust the sound to the listener’s tastes. Think of the valves as tiny equalizer settings you can screw into your earphones. Some other earphone makers have adopted this method of audio customization, but Torque was one of the first. The AMHE303 earphones’ three valves are named Reference, Deep and Clear. The yellow-banded Deep valve allows more bass to come through and the black-banded Clear valve allows more treble. The red-banded Reference valve balances the bass, mid and high frequencies for a more accurate or neutral presentation. Based on my experience, I can safely say that most people will choose the Deep valve for an added boost in bass. I’m not one of those people. In fact, I much prefer the optional (and extra cost) green-banded Balanced valve, but since it’s optional and isn’t included here, I will leave it out of the testing.
The valves are kept screwed into a holder—or valet as Torque calls it—which helps prevent loss. The valet has a built-in wrench for loosening a valve should it become too tight. It’s a clever addition.
Of the three included valves, I switch between the red-banded Reference and the yellow-banded Bass valve. The Reference valve lets the music be as unaltered as possible.This results in a more accurate presentation, but may bother some because bass can seem light and this valve isn’t as forgiving with lower-resolution files. The Deep valve is good with newer recordings that already accentuate bass, such as dance or electronica. This valve is fun, but can become tiring over extended listening sessions. The Clear valve is just too bright sounding for my tastes. It reveals a lot of a song’s detail, but at the cost of fun. It’s too clinical.
As I did in my review of the t103z earphone, I limited my tests to three songs that differ in genre allowing a fair-as-possible valve comparison.
“Knowing Me, Knowing You” — Abba
Say what you will about Abba—they knew what they were doing in the studio. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a production powerhouse of a song with a potent bass line. The Deep valve provided a kick in the gut for the song’s bass while also dialing down the overly bright spots. While the bass was still potent using the Clear valve, the brights were too in-your-face which diminished the enjoyment of the song. Plus, harshness crept in as the volume increased. The Reference valve was more suited for this song. Abba’s female vocalists sounded distinct and up front while the bass had as much kick as with the Deep valve, but with more clarity. There was absolutely no harshness in the higher frequencies as with the Clear valve. The Reference valve is the best match.
“THE BLUE DANUBE” — 2001:A Space Odyssey Soundtrack
This famous waltz was the perfect cornerstone in this classic movie’s abrupt switch from ape man to a spinning space station. The power of the instruments showcase Johann Strauss II’s genius. Unfortunately, the Deep valve muddies up the music by emphasizing the more bass notes at the expense of the wonderful strings throughout. The Clear valve was a tad too bright for my tastes, but I could see where some would love this waltz when heard though them. They certainly cleared up the aural murkiness of the Deep valve. Once again, The Reference valve wins in this classical comparison. There was a balance and smoothness to the sound that was lacking in both the Deep and Clear valves.
“Bad Reputation” — Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
I can’t listen to this song without turning the volume up to damaging levels. It’s so much fun. There’s plenty of bottom in the playing and while it kicks, it suffers from some bleeding into the middle frequencies obscuring (just a bit) Jett’s rebellious vocals. This song does not work with the Clear valves at all. They were overly bright and I had to turn the volume down because Jett’s vocals became grating and painful. While the Reference valve worked well with this song, the Deep valve had more punch and made Jett’s teen anthem more enjoyable despite that valve’s weaknesses.
If you already have the original Torque t103z earphones, there is no compelling reason to upgrade to the Mercedes AMHE303. However, if you’re looking to upgrade your cheapo earphones or earbuds, and Torque’s excellent t096z earphones cost more than you want to spend, then the AMHE303 would be a good choice—or you can wait for the improved version 2 of the t103z due to come out later in 2017. Not a bad choice to have.
The AMHE303 Mercedes-Benz Limited Edition X Torque in-ear headphones are available now exclusively from Mercedes and sell for $189.00 US.
Source: The sample for this review was provided by Torque Audio. Please visit www.torque.audio for more information.