If you’re familiar with the “community-driven commerce platform” Massdrop, you likely know that they’re certainly no stranger to the audiophile market, having collaborated with the likes of Sennheiser, AKG, MEE Audio, and HiFiMan, leading to several highly lauded and much loved Massdrop branded headphones and earphones over the past few years. The Massdrop Plus, however, is the company’s first independently developed audiophile product, a triple balanced armature IEM, retailing for $300 and promising “a sound that leans toward full and fun”.
Considering Massdrop’s reputation, expectations were high, and early reviews of the product were glowing. So, when the first drop was opened, I eagerly placed an order for a pair of my own, hoping they would live up to the pre-release hype surrounding them.
That was in October, 2017, and I received them the following February, and by then, I was practically chomping at the bit to get my hands and ears on them. After a year of listening to them, how do they measure up? Well, read on to find out.
Design, Build Quality, and Comfort
The Massdrop Plus features a 3D-printed acrylic housing design and a removable 0.78mm 2-pin cable. Over the past year, the Plus has accompanied me on my commute dozens of times and remained in fantastic shape.
That is, until sometime in early August when the IEM suddenly and inexplicably started to sound “off” in its right channel, which prompted me to contact support. Thankfully, they took good care of me and shipped out a replacement right away, even before I sent back my original pair. Since then, I’ve continued to carry them with me and I haven’t had an issue since.
I haven’t heard widespread complaints regarding poor build quality or longevity so my case was likely an isolated incident but I felt it was worth mentioning.
The shell design of the Plus was derived from an average of – in Massdrop’s words – thousands of custom shells, promising a comfortable fit and I find that promise to be accurate. The IEMs are designed to be worn with the cable over the ear and sit flush in my outer ear. I can listen to them for hours at a time and not suffer too much ear fatigue.
I’m less enthused about the stock cable though, which has a hard outer coating that makes it feel stiff and makes it quite prone to microphonics, even though the noise is minimized slightly by the over-the-ear wear. The recessed 2-pin cable connector limits your choices of replacement cables somewhat and – though I’m fully aware that this is a more subjective gripe than most – I wish Massdrop had gone with the more common MMCX connector, which would make cable shopping much easier.
Now, onto the most important part of this review, the sound quality. One of Massdrop’s stated goals when they started to craft the Plus’s sound signature was to replicate a reference-oriented sound similar to that of the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor and Etymotic’s ER4SR but with a sub-bass boost to make things more fun. Now, I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing either of those IEMs, so I can’t say whether or not they achieved their stated goal but…well, let’s dive in, shall we?
Starting at the bottom, the Massdrop Plus surprises immediately, with an elevated bass response that sounds rather…dynamic. Bass notes hit fast, as one would expect from a balanced armature, but the decay is slower than I’d expect, which is a big contributor to that dynamic feel. The Plus is highly responsive to EQ and bass boost features on amplifiers so the low end can be raised quite a bit without distortion. This lends well to two of my favorite genres, Hip-Hop and EDM, which thrive on heavy bass.
Moving into the midrange, the sound is clear and uncolored by the bass, which stays controlled and nonintrusive. The midrange is surprisingly rich and “musical”, eschewing the typical balanced armature tendencies toward quick note presentation and just as quick decay and transients, which can sometimes lead to them sounding somewhat thin. Notes linger a longer than one would expect, once again reminding me of dynamic driver IEMs. But, similar to the Campfire Audio Andromeda, it doesn’t sacrifice clarity or smooth over detail in its pursuit of a warmer sound signature. As a result, the Massdrop Plus sounds natural and clear, free of fatiguing peaks or sibilance in the upper midrange/lower treble.
The treble of the Massdrop Plus is, in contrast to the low end, rather laid-back and relaxed. Despite the lack of emphasis, it’s certainly not lacking in detail or air. It doesn’t sparkle like the Andromeda but it’s still impressive in its own right, with good extension and an even-handed, tonally neutral presentation that avoids sibilance, hardness or sharpness. This subdued treble leads the Plus to sound a bit dark at times but not unpleasantly so. This isn’t the IEM for treble-heads out there but, like I said, all of the minute details are there, even if they’re not particularly prominent.
The overall tone of the Massdrop Plus is tilted toward warmth and manages a neutral/reference presentation with a slight bass boost to keep things interesting. No one frequency is over-emphasized and everything sounds nicely balanced, despite the laid-back high end, with excellent clarity throughout the frequency band. The Plus is an easy to listen to, non-fatiguing IEM that sounds great with every genre I’ve tried, with a nicely-sized soundstage that allows for precise imaging and a good sense of spatial awareness for live recordings and classical pieces.
Considering this is Massdrop’s first time at bat, so to speak, it’s quite impressive that they managed to knock it out of the park. The Massdrop Plus manages to impress me every time I give it a listen. In my opinion, it’s one of the best IEMs you can get for under a grand. Its sound signature isn’t for everyone, with its slight bass boost, warm tone and subdued high end but it does more than enough right to outweigh its flaws, which may not even be considered flaws to many listeners, myself included.
Without hearing either one of Massdrop’s reference IEMs, I can’t say for certain whether or not they’ve managed to capture the essence of the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor or the ER4SR while elevating the bass a bit to make things more fun for audiophiles and casual listeners alike. I can say that Massdrop has crafted a winner in the Plus. This is a competently designed and well-executed IEM that can go toe-to-toe with its more expensive contemporaries with a coherent, highly detailed, and downright enjoyable sound that’s quite easy to love and should satisfy just about everyone who gives it a listen.