Pros: tiny!, great fit, nimble and quick feeling micro driver, midrange not much overshadowed by the bass, good/solid resolution
Cons: case not always ideally sized for rolling up the cable, (not for bass-shy people w/o vent mod,) sub-bass a bit blunt/dry w/ v. low extending tracks
Advanced AcousticWerkes, in short known as AAW, is a Singapore based manufacturer best known for custom-moulded in-ear monitors (CIEMs). Not long ago, they have introduced a line of universal fit in-ears that are not universal models of their CIEMs, but a independent product line.
One of them, simply called “Q” (https://www.aaw.me/collections/universal-in-ear/products/aaw-q-in-canal-monitor), isn’t just a regular single dynamic driver in-ear but actually probably the tiniest universal fit in-ear existing, having a dynamic 6 mm micro-driver that is built into a housing that is just barely larger than the driver itself, resulting in a weight of less than one gramme per side.
And as the Q is so small and sits inside one’s ear canals, it is called “in-canal monitor” by the manufacturer.
Might this in-ear be a cure for people with really small ears and can I with my large ears also find a comfortable fit? Let’s find it out!
Before I go on, I want to take the time to personally thank Advanced AcousticWerkes for sending me a sample of the Q in-canal monitors free of charge for the purpose of an honest, unbiased test and review.
Proprietary 6 mm Dynamic MicroDriver
Impedance: 42 Ohm
Frequency Range: 10Hz-400000Hz
Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL @ 1 mW
Input Power: 3 mW
Cable Length: 1.27 m
Android/Apple dual mode inline remote control
I did not receive a full retail package but a transparent bag that included the usual paper stuff, an AAW-branded metal plate with foam and silicone ear tips (in total, there are three pairs in three different sizes for each sort of tips), an airplane adapter, a 6.3 to 3.5 mm adapter, a magnetic pleather cable managing tool, the in-ears and last but not least a blue pleather carrying case with magnetic fastener.
Looks, Feels, Build Quality:
The in-ears are tiny and very short – not much surprising as pretty much only the tiny driver is sitting in the metal housings that have got small side markers in forms of “L” and “R” letters.
The straight 3.5 mm jack is made of silver metal, too, and carries a small “Q”, just as the y-split that is also made of metal.
The cable is nicely flexible and appears rather sturdy. Above the y-split is a small chin-slider. Below the y-split, the cable is coated with woven nylon, and if you know me, you might be aware that while I find this nicely looking, I am not a big fan of such fabric/nylon coatings because especially in portable use, they will fray over time.
The strain relief on the headphone jack and y-split appears sufficient, however directly at the in-ears, it is a bit too short and doesn’t appear too protective – due to the in-ears small size, one has to pull the cables to remove them, so this might be a weak spot on the long run.
The rectangular carrying case with the metallic AAW plate and blue pleather looks really nice and seems to be inspired by the Sennheiser IE 800’s carrying case, however just with the one of my IE 800, I would have preferred a regular carrying care instead of the roll-up type that takes more time to store the in-ears and lets dust come in. Also, it seems not to be perfectly calculated, so the connector/cable often doesn’t fully wrap around but leads to the cable building a loop, else it couldn’t be stored.
While the inner foam insert can be removed to allow for different ways of storage, I would have really preferred a normal carrying case instead.
The in-ears were designed to be tiny, and that’s what they just are. Due to their size, it is easier to insert them deeper than many regular in-ears while they still don’t pass the ear canals’ first bend.
Inserting the Q in-canal monitors can be either done with the cables down or around the ears, however I would recommend the latter as it is the professional method that reduces microphonics, improves fit and also allows for a deeper insertion.
The Q monitors fully disappear in my ear canals with my conchas remaining entirely free. Wearing the cables around my ears, what I always do, I feel a little like an undercover agent as they disappear in my ears and are super unobtrusive.
Even without using the chin-slider, microphonics are close to being inexistent.
Although the in-ears have got a small vent in each side, they isolate surprisingly well while they don’t completely reach the isolation of fully closed models.
I am no burn-in believer with in-ears and headphones, nonetheless I played more than 150 hours of continuous noise and sine signals before listening started.
The main source devices I used for the Q were the iBasso DX80, Luxury & Precision L3 Pro and also my iPhone 4.
For listening, I used the largest included silicone tips with deep insertion.
Before I started doing the sine sweeps, cross-comparisons and equalized comparisons, I wrote down my subjective impressions on paper, as I always do. Here is a summary of what I wrote:
The Q has got a portable use-friendly, bass-driven sound signature with a really strong and impactful mid- and sub-bass (early guess: ca. 15 dB more quantity than with a strictly flat monitor) with an upper bass kick that is strong as well. The lower mids are on the warmer, fuller side however still not too artificial and remind me a bit of the Sennheiser Amperior’s vocals with a little more warmth. Despite the strong bass emphasis, it doesn’t bleed too much into the midrange. The middle treble around 5 kHz is a bit more in the background, giving vocals a relaxed presentation. The upper highs around 10 kHz show a peak that adds clarity, however the highs are not even slightly obtrusive or harsh as they decay quickly (maybe a little too fast) and compensate for the strong bass elevation – I really wouldn’t describe the sound as being v-shaped at all but bassy instead.
This type of signature with a really strong bass emphasis and smooth, warm lower mids fits well for outdoor use in noisy environment and where bass-masking happens, such as in a train, public transport or airplane.
Without the strong bass, the sound is even pretty natural, realistic, very cohesive and quite even.
What’s pretty interesting – while the sound in stock form is not the most realistic and more tuned for urban street use, covering the small vent, the in-canal monitor can actually be turned into a fairly balanced sounding in-ear with just a small bit of extra bass.
And that’s what I am hearing listening to sine sweeps and doing equalized cross-comparisons:
The lows start climbing around 700 Hz with more of a bulky than linear shape, reaching their climax around 75 Hz and a somewhat warm, impactful root and upper bass and strong midbass. Bass is ca. 14 dB more forward than with a really flat in-ear monitor like the ER-4S from Etymotic Research. Below 40 Hz, it is losing some quantity while the sub-bass is still audible and strong enough.
Level between 700 Hz and 2.5 kHz is pretty consistent with an even dip between 4 and 7 kHz and an even, unobtrusive emphasis between 8 and 11 kHz. From there on, level is rolling off in the super treble.
By the way, this is what I recorded with my pseudo-diffuse-field-compensated-calibrated Vibro Veritas coupler (you can read more about the graphs and process of how they are taken and the inaccuracy in my measurements following this external link: frequency-response.blogspot.com/p/about-measurement-graphs.html):
The plot that was taken after I wrote down my impressions pretty much backs them up, however what is to be noted is that the dip in the middle highs is not as deep but only rather half as present (it is a calibration error in my setup and can be found on all of my measurements) and that the upper treble emphasis is definitely less present when listening to music and even sine sweeps due to the deep insertion in my ears and also the elevated bass.
Such a strong bass elevation is mostly also quite straining for the driver and leads to a loss of control – with the Q, this can be sometimes heard as well to some extent.
But first things first: the AAW Q does neither belong to the best resolving dynamic driver in-ears around $200 nor would I ever consider it as belonging to the worse ones. On the average, the detail retrieval hits a good spot (noticeably better than the NuForce NE-800M but somewhat below the LEAR LHF-AE1d).
What’s quite noticeable is that despite the strong bass emphasis, the Q feels very nimble and the bass is surprisingly fast, well-controlled and decays really quickly. Fast bass lines don’t muddy up but remain controlled without overpowering. However, the resolution on low notes could be somewhat higher and the lows have got some one-noted tendency when the track extends deep and is really fast at the same time and then sound a little blunt (covering the vent and therefore reducing the bass, this does not happen anymore).
Playing music that doesn’t extend as low and has got just little bass, the mids and treble sound adequately detailed and resolving for the price with good separation, air and control. When the bass kicks in on a slower or normally fast track, the mids and treble don’t lose much of their control, separation and details, but it is noticeable that the driver is stressed somewhat more because of the strong bass. Playing fast and deep extending recordings, the Q’s small drivers start to sound strained, noticeably lose resolution and also separation, and the highs start decaying too quickly.
Without the strong bass (or normally fast tracks), the mids sound even nicely layered with good speech intelligibility and high naturalism, and the treble has got good separation with the right amount of decay.
So summarised, with normally fast tracks, the Q sounds well to averagely detailed for the price, and with really fast and deep extending recordings, it becomes somewhat strained and falls somewhat below the average threshold while still remaining nimble and quickly decaying.
Covering the vent hole which leads to a bass reduction, the Q does not sound constrained in the mids and treble anymore when the deep bass kicks in on fast tracks, which leads me to the idea that it would be really interesting to have an additional back plate to cover the vent or a hybrid in-ear with the really nimble and quickly decaying dynamic lows driver of the Q but with a BA driver for the mids and treble.
As long as you don’t listen to really fast music with the stock open vent, you really won’t have any problems with the mids and treble though, but will get an adequate detail resolution out of a really nimble and controlled small dynamic driver.
The soundstage has about average width with only slightly less spatial depth, creating an overall three-dimensional and quite open virtual stage.
Instrument separation and spatial positioning are good as well as precise and tracks with many instruments or layers are reproduced well. Only with really fast tracks that have a deep bass extension, instrument separation becomes somewhat blurry.
In Comparison with other In-Ears:
The Omega in-ears are in a much lower price league, nonetheless I wanted to include them as they are really small, too.
The Q is smaller, shorter and better built, with the more flexible cable.
The U-shaped Omega has got a comparably strong sub-bass and lower midbass while the Q is fuller in the rest of the midbass, upper bass and root and has got the warmer mids compared to the Omega’s somewhat bright mids that sound less natural and a bit metallic in comparison. In the middle highs, the Q is more recessed and relaxed. The Omega’s upper treble sounds brighter and more metallic.
Detail retrieval and control are not much surprisingly better with the Q that has especially got the better controlled and quicker decaying, faster bass.
The Q’s soundstage is a little wider but also audibly deeper and creates more air around instruments. With fast tracks, the Omega’s stage collapses somewhat whereas the Q doesn’t lose much separation.
Price-wise, the q-JAYS are more expensive and also feature a different driver configuration (dual-BA vs. single dynamic) which is usually the major reason why I don’t like to do comparisons like this one, however I still decided to do it this time as the Jays in-ears are very small monitors, too. Just a quick note regarding the q-JAYS’ upper treble peak: inserting the in-ears really deeply, like I usually do, I don’t perceive it as being piercing or overly bright at all anymore, however it can be if you are treble-sensitive and don’t insert the IEMs as deeply.
The q-JAYS are better built and feature removable cables. They also isolate somewhat more. While the AAW Q in-canal monitors are smaller, the q-JAYS are small, too, and I can insert them a good bit deeper because of their shape, avoiding the upper treble peak’s sharpness.
Tonality-wise, the Jays sound much more balanced with a neutral-ish tendency. Covering the Q’s vent, the in-ears sound just slightly bassier than the Jays and a lot bassier with open vents. In the mids, the Jays are spot-on neutral to my ears compared to the moderately warm mids of the Q. The Q-Jays don’t have as much of a middle treble recession and a somewhat narrower, brighter upper treble with the better extension above 10 kHz at the same time.
Both in-ears have got different drivers with the Jays being dual-BA in-ears, so it is not that surprising that they sound cleaner, quicker and better controlled with fast music and also feature the higher detail retrieval in the mids and treble.
Soundstage size is very comparable with the Jays featuring the sharper and cleaner separation.
Echobox Audio Finder X1 (silver filters):
The Finder X1 in-ears are quite small and offer a great fun sound signature with a strong U-shaped tonality and great control, hence I really love using them on the outside when I am out for an engaging and entertaining sound.
The Finder in-ears are a little larger. The Q sits a little deeper in my ears. Build quality of the ear pieces is more premium with the Echobox while both have got really nice cables with the AAW’s being a bit more flexible. The Q isolates slightly better.
Sound signature-wise, the X1 is even more on the fun side with a strong U shape. Sub-bass is a little more present on the X1 while the lower midbass is equally present on both. In the rest of the lows, the X1 is however leaner in comparison, making it a mainly sub-bass focussed in-ear. In the mids, the Q is warmer and doesn’t appear distant in comparison the Echobox. The Finder’s highs are evenly rising from the lower to the upper treble, wherefore it is the brighter in-ear. The Q’s treble is somewhat more even and realistic in the treble though.
Detail retrieval in the mids and treble is pretty similar to my ears. In the bass, with normally fast recordings, the Q appears to be slightly more nimble and faster decaying, however with really fast tracks, the Finder X1 doesn’t lose details and separation in the mids and highs whereas the Q does to some extent.
The Finder’s soundstage is wider while both in-ears have got identical amounts of spatial depth to me and are also identical when it comes to separation and spatial precision.
Overall, I would say both are technically pretty much on the same level.
Sennheiser IE 80 (lowest bass setting):
Size-wise, the IE 80 doesn’t really fit into this comparison and it is also not the best in-ear with fast and more complex/busy tracks, however it is quite popular and works pretty well for intimate and slower recordings, especially older Classic Rock, Singer-Songwriter stuff and Acoustic recordings. In addition, it has got a very large and three-dimensional soundstage.
The AAW doesn’t have removable cables, however they are considerably more flexible. The Sennheiser is obviously larger and fits more shallowly.
With the maximum bass setting of the Sennheiser, the Q is still slightly more impactful and bassier. The IE 80, also in the lowest bass setting, has got the warmer and fuller root while vocal timbre is comparable. In the middle highs, the Q is a little more relaxed while I perceive both to sound equal in the upper highs.
When it comes to bass quality, the Q’s is a good bit faster, cleaner and controlled. Also, the AAW has got the higher resolution in the lower frequency range and also sounds quite a bit more detailed in the mids and treble.
The Sennheiser’s soundstage is larger while the AAW’s is cleaner, with the more precise instrument separation.
From what I hear, this shows that the IE 80’s sound quality doesn’t really keep up with its price and that it doesn’t handle averagely fast music that well but is better suiting for slow and intimate recordings. If I had to choose between both for a really bassy signature (IE 80’s screw fully open), I would take the AAW in a heartbeat as it is sonically more capable by a good margin.
Long story short, AAW have created a ridiculously tiny ear canal monitor with a really strong bass that fits well for a noisy portable environment. The technical qualities of this in-ear are strong and the
micro dynamic driver sounds very nimble, fast and controlled, despite the strong elevation in the lows. Only with really fast and low extending recordings, the bass starts to sound somewhat blunt and the mids and treble lose some separation and resolution. If you don’t listen to really fast Electronical or Metal or close the vent, this shouldn’t be a problem though.
So the Q sounds great and with a big bass (note: if you are not looking for a very bassy in-ear, the Q might not be the right choice for you in stock form), and the speed and nimbleness of the used dynamic micro driver really make me wonder what a hybrid in-ear with the same drivers as woofers would sound like.
A few suggestions for improvements at the end for the manufacturer: get rid of the nylon coating, incorporate longer and stronger strain relief at the ear pieces and please also use a differently designed carrying case.
Nonetheless, I really think that AAW should extend their universal fit line with even more models (possibly also universal fit models of their CIEMs), as the Q, which is the first product I ever listened to from them, already offers a really good technical basis and a lot to like, especially if one is out for a strong and forward bass.
All in all with my usual 70% sound for the price/driver type to 30% build/accessories rating, I come to a final conclusion of 3.8125 out of 5 possible stars. If low extending and really fast music affected the mids’ and highs’ fidelity less, it would have been even more.