Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Torque Audio t103z headphones

Hey, we're not here to judge, OK? We won't say anything about you using Apple's pack-in EarPods and you can keep your thoughts to yourself about us paying $180 for in-ear headphones. Cool? Cool.

I came across Torque Audio at Engadget's recent Expand conference and was genuinely impressed with its t103z headphones. As an avid musician, it's unlikely you'll find me without a pair of buds in my shoulder bag or back pocket. My addiction to quality audio is actually what first tempted me to ditch my iPhone 4s in favor of an HTC One. For me, it's as much about evaluating the production of Ellie Goulding's latest track as it is about casually enjoying the groove -- and hopefully picking up a few studio tricks in the process. It only took one week with the aluminum-encased t103zs before they became my go-to pair of reference headphones.

The ability to "mod" headphones might seem gimmicky, but these have honestly filled a hole in my listening experience that I hadn't realized existed. Torque's t103zs have a seriously flat (read: unaltered) sound. The punchy stabs in Lady Gaga's "Applause" and heavy mid-toned guitars of Switchfoot's "Dark Horses" have never sounded so full and expansive, especially compared to the noticeable compression when played through Apple's EarPods or the Beats headphones that came standard with the HTC One. Not to mention the t103zs offer a premium metal-and-polycarbonate feel that I completely geek out over.

The true appeal of the t103zs lies in their Passive Acoustic Valve Technology and interchangeable parts, dubbed TorqueValves. Each set of TorqueValves employs a technique known as subtractive equalization, which uniquely adjusts the EQ of your audio by physically cutting specific frequency ranges. For example, by reducing the volume of treble frequencies, the "perceived loudness" of bass frequencies becomes much more apparent in the mix. Without diving any further into the backend of digital audio, this process is innately different -- and results in less distortion -- than, say, selecting "Bass Booster" in the iTunes Equalizer window or toggling Beats Audio on an HTC One. To be fair, the amount of audible distortion and tonal coloration from the alternative -- additive equalization --ultimately depends on the skill of the listener's ear, but theoretically it's always there.

Out of the three different pairs of TorqueValves that come in the box, I've found myself partial to the "sparkling crisp highs" of the Clear Valves. They do a great job at exposing delay tails and vocal stacks from my favorite Kimbra tracks I've only ever enjoyed through custom, triple-driver Westone Elite Series ES3X monitors. When I'm looking for an accurate, real-world audio reproduction of my latest studio project, Torque takes the cake. The t103zs are the best single-driver headphones that have ever graced my ears.

-- Andy Bowen

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