Pros: Addictive sound, beautiful, very nice case
Cons: Uncomfortable, a little light on accessories
Astell & Kern AKR01
Jimmy Moon at Astell & Kern was kind enough to lend me a pair of AKR01's for review. Big thanks to him. Anyways, review ahead!
What are they: I notice that I haven't seen coverage for these at all, and I wanted to tell you what they are about.
The AKR01 is based off the Final Audio Heaven IV design, and is voiced to work well with their AK100 and AK120 DAPs, I cannot confirm that it sounds the same as I haven't heard the IV. Final Audio teamed with A&K because they like what A&K do.Another reason being they wanted to fuse the A&K sound and the Final sound into one. Thus, the AKR01 was born.
Packaging: Simple. I like it. Its not flashy, its a nice black box, with the AKR01's on the front. Very simplistic. Inside you find the AKR01's in their case. I, personally, love the case because the foam inside has cut outs for the AKR01 to fit right into, and there is a little spot for the cable also. It is a leather case, but I will get more into the accessories in the accessories section.
Who are Astell & Kern: They are a branch off of iRiver, and specialize in making high quality DAPs. They started in Oct. 2012, and this is their first IEM that they have made. For their first, they did quite well.
Fit: I like the fit on these, it took me a bit of fiddling around to get it, but once I got it, I can barely hear the click-clack of my keyboard. And, boy, it is a loud keyboard. Owen at Astell & Kern put them into my ears for the first time(CAS), and showed me how to put in a deep-insertion IEM, like the AKR01 are.
Accessories: I thought Astell was very light on accessories, I wasn't a big fan of them. The accessories are:
- Black Leather Case
- Extra set of ear tips
Not many at all. At the least, they could have included a IEM cleaner, to get the ear wax out, which would be very easy to provide I feel. There are two types of ear tips, that come in small, medium, and large. In total, there are 12 ear tips, 6 of them are High Sound Isolation ear tips, and Low Resonance ear tips. That being said, Jimmy Moon at A&K has told me the case is real leather, no pleather!
The case and ear tips:
(Low resonance at top, high isolation at bottom)
Comfort: Not optimal, but, I think that is come to be expected with deep insertion IEMs though, so I wouldn't take this as a shock. They made my ears sore after a 3 hour listening session, but it didn't last too long.
Edit (12/29): The AKR01's are very uncomfortable, I usually do not wear these as deep-insertion IEM's because of the discomfort.
Isolation: Fantastic. I cannot hear the click-clack of my loud keyboard, love it.
Aesthetics: These are absolutely beautiful. They are made out of stainless steel. Astell & Kern and Final is printed on the IEM. They are very shiny, and look extremely nice in the ear.
Cable: The cable feels great, but once you put them on, and the cable scratches up against something, you hear it. It becomes very annoying while listening to music, and very disruptive.
Early impressions: Wow, these sound fantastic. A very smooth sound to it, can sound a bit harsh at times. It does need an amp, as I was getting sibilance on my iTouch Gen 4, and only a little bit on my O2/ODAC > Computer. I will say, the AKR01 and AK100 combo sounded a lot better than this combo(heard it at CAS). The soundstage is fantastic for an IEM, I feel. The highs are extended, I would say I am sensitive to highs, as I am used to the HD650s. But they don't hurt a lot, only on one or two songs have I found that they verge on the realm of hurting. The layering isn't the best I have seen, the instruments can sound a bit clumped, even though the soundstage is pretty good.
After about 100 hours of burn in, my concrete impressions:
Sibilance: Some is present in certain songs, but with amping, almost all is gone.
Speed: As others have noted in reviews, these are fast. In "Dropped" by Atoms for Peace, the bass at the start of the song is fast and tight. The music is never leaving the IEM, the IEM is running just as fast as the music. "Dropped" is one of the fastest songs I've seen, and the headphones I have used, a chosen few could catch up with the beat.
Soundstage & Imaging: One word: huge. The soundstage is jaw dropping for an IEM, especially at the price point it is at. When I first put these on, I was blown away by the soundstage, I loved every bit of it. Its for sure the best IEM soundstage I've heard, and a better than a few closed headphones I've used. The imaging is also fantastic, sounds coming at you from every angle. In the song," Electioneering" by Radiohead, the guitar sweep at 00:3 I think shows off the imaging perfectly, with part of the guitar being left behind, and a kind of fading guitar going to your right earbud, amazing.
Bass: Listening to, " Hold On, We're Going Home (Feat. Majid Jordan)" by Drake, the bass is tight and punchy. It's a very quick hit, its a light bass. It has an addictive quality to it, I cannot get enough of it. Now onto a bass guitar, on the intro of "Money" by Pink Floyd, wow. You can hear the little slits of the guitar, all of it coming together to form one centric sound. Full-bodied and beautiful. It has a very 3D sound to it. You can hear the guitarist fingers playing the bass guitar. The electronic bass on Radioheads, " Little By Little" caribou remix, is absolutely amazing. It is tight, full-bodied, and deep. Its extremely textured, like you could put out your hand and touch it. It fades away perfectly, a very quick fade away.
This bass is addictive, beware.
Mids: The mids are light and airy. Listening to The Microphones, " I Felt Your Shape", the acoustic guitar is portrayed just how an acoustic guitar is supposed to be portrayed. Extremely light and airy, the AKR01 let you hear the air between the strings. Everything about the mids are light and airy. The voices are extremely detailed, and have a certain sweetness to them. Like the bass, they are addictive. Voices are truly a joy to listen to, if you're a vocals person, look no further in IEMs. In Pink Floyds," Great Gig In The Sky" the female voice is beautiful. Portrayed perfectly by the imaging, and the sweetness of the mids is something else with this voice. Its airy and sweet.
Addictive once again.
Highs: Once again, these are light and airy. Also, very sweet. Captivating. A bit recessed, but still there for you to hear. Female voices are one of the best ways to hear the faults and the strengths of highs in a headphone. So I tuned up some Adele, " Rolling In The Deep" and wow, amazing. Detailed and light. The highs are the least prominent part of the spectrum in correlation to the lows and the mids, which is disappointing, as they have a very nice sound to them.
Conclusion: These were fantastic, I really, really did like them. I've always considered myself not the biggest IEM fan; but I heard them at CAS and fell in love. I would recommend them to anyone looking for an IEM in the $200 range, and have an all-around listening style. The people over at A&K are also great people, so you know you're in good hands.
Edit as of 1/5/14: I found the comfort when worn deep-insertion to be far from optimal, thus, reflecting the change in the stars and comfort. However, if worn as a normal IEM, I found the comfort to be far improved. If it was supposed to be worn as a normal IEM, it would recieve 5 stars, however, it is not supposed to be, so I will not have it reflect that. Also, a reminder to everyone: find the best tips for you. I was listening to the AKR01's the other day, wondering why they sounded awful; I couldn't believe that I gave these 4 stars, and wrote so highly of them. However, I got off my lazy ass, and changed the tips, thinking that it might help just a little. Well, it helped enormously, and my thoughts about them are now as they are in my review. Though, I still think they need an amp to get these to where I want them to be. Hope you guys are liking the review :)
Thank you, I hope you enjoyed the read.
Set up used: O2/ODAC > Computer > AKR01
Edit made on 12/29 to reflect comfort problems and stars changed to 4 stars from the previous 5.