Pros: Sounds Wonderful Overall, Nice Finish
Cons: Isolation, Packaging & Accessories
Astrotec has been mostly into budget IEMs until recently, when they introduced their AX60, AX7 and now their AX30/35. The version I have here today is the AX35. I’m not sure of the prices yet, but from what I hear, the AX30 will be around $65 while the AX35 will be $80 (USD). The AX30 is supposed to be the bassier model of the two while the AX35 was tuned to be more neutral. Me generally preferring a more neutral presentation, picked the AX35 over the AX30.
Hybrid IEMs really are the FOTM here on Head-Fi, with the DN-1000, AX60, H-200, 1plus2 etc. However, these are all 1 dynamic driver + 2 BA IEMs; the AX35 has one BA driver as opposed to two. This makes it more or less a competitor with the DN-900, H-100 and the MA750 (1 dynamic driver) BUT all of those are more expensive than the AX35. However, upon the first listen I could tell that Astrotec had created something special here which could not only compete, but maybe even better more expensive IEMs.
To be honest, last time I listened to the AX60, I was rather disappointed with it and found that the DN-1000 was actually superior at a cheaper price. Therefore, I was rather uncertain as to what to expect from Astrotec’s new IEMs. Luckily, I actually really like the AX35’s tuning unlike the AX60s. Edit: I just got en email saying that mine were a review sample and that the final model will have all the tips. There are available at the Noisy Motel right now.
**Disclaimer** I got these at a discounted price in return for an unbiased review.
Unboxing & Accessories
The box wasn’t much at all, rather disappointing actually. However, I suspect this was to cut down on the cost price. Upon opening the box you will find a manual, and then the IEMs greet you. Taking that layer off, there is a round rugged metal case and inside it, the accessories. Overall, it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make it feel like a high quality product – kind of like the AX7’s box actually.
It doesn’t come with an array of accessories like the Dunu and RHA offerings. Instead, it comes with a case, 3 sets of silicone tips, 1 foam tip and ear hooks. What was weird was it came with just 1 small silicone tip and 1 foam tip (no, I didn’t lose it). The silicone tips are the same ones that come with the AX60 and I really like them. The foams are just regular foams, not sure if they are comply because I don’t use foam tips. The ear hooks are a nice touch and made out of rubber. They are very flexible, but you can’t really adjust them to fit your ear. Not a big issue as I don’t think many people use them anyway.
Design & Isolation
The design of the housing really reminds me of the Dunu DN-1000 and 900. You can tell that the finish is of very high quality. The IEM housing is constructed from metal and everything is very smooth; the build is easily on par with the DN-900 and MA750, but not quite up to the DN-1000 level. It has 2 vents, one on the face and the other on the top of the IEM nozzle. One thing I wished Astrotec had done is put a logo on the face – it would have made them look much more professional IMO, but no big deal.
The cable is very nice – I believe it’s the same one that the AX60 uses. It is a bit springy though, which I don’t really like. It is very tough and feels like it can withstand quite a bit of punishment though. Another thing to mention is I’m not a fan of the colour; it looks somewhat pink from a distance (it’s actually red, orange and green). I would have preferred something more low profile like black or grey. The plug and y-split all seem very nicely crafted, though the AX35 on the y-split is facing the wrong direction.
The isolation is rather bad, worse than the DN-900, MA750 and even the 1plus2! It is along the lines of an EX1000 (horrible). I took them on a bus once and they were worse than my $20 IEMs. These are strictly for home listening only.
I tested these on quite a few sources and what I am quite surprised about is that they actually scale up to better sources quite well. On the Clip+ made these a little too warm, but I really liked them with my Nano.
Charles, the person who sent these to me told me that these responded quite well to amping and they certainly do. On the DX50 which has a decent on board amp, the sound opened up quite a bit. Adding on a Palaios made the sound a little better and the mids came out a little. On the Leckerton UHA760 the soundstage increased a bit more and that’s about it. However, I highly doubt people will be using a $700 rig with an $80 IEM lol. Anyway, I did the review with the UHA760 and DX50 with SPC cable.
Ok, so I’ve listened to the AX35 for a while now and I am still quite surprised as to how good these sound. The sound quality is absolutely stunning for its $80 price tag, a good bit under $100. These hands down beat the BA-100 and are right up there with the MA750 and DN-900, both of which cost one and a half times the AX35’s price. So let’s get on with the review.
For me this is the best part of the AX35 here. I was told that the bass on these would be neutral and no… it’s not. For me at least the AX35s bass is definitely not neutral at all; rather it is quite emphasized, but certainly not to the levels of the Dunu DN-1000. I kinda reminds me of the MA750’s bass except it is much faster and it does not have as much sub-bass. Anyway, I am usually a guy who enjoys a neutral sound sig more, but sometimes I just love a heavy, detailed bass which is exactly what the AX35 provides. The detail of the bass is very good, I would say even better than the MA750 and it stays very fast, no bloat whatsoever. This actually makes the DN-900 feel a little bit slow. Overall the bass is just about on par with something like the MA750. Overall, the bass is simply amazing for just $80. Seriously, this is the best bass I’ve heard in anything within twice of the AX35’s price.
Ah, the midrange… Few IEMs seem to get it right for me over here. I must admit though, I am extremely picky with the midrange tonality that I like. One that that I just can’t stand is veiled vocals and an overly recessed midrange. Well, the question you might be asking me is whether I think the AX35 is just right. I’m happy to say that yes, it definitely gets it right for me. The midrange is very neutral and maybe even a little on the colder side of things. These are not nearly as warm as the MA750 and these never gave me an impression of a midrange veil. The mids are recessed as well, but not so much it become annoying. Vocals sound pretty damn good on the AX35, being detailed yet not fatiguing and I really love playing Maroon 5 on these. It just sound so natural sounding. The mids’ tonality are exactly as I like it and man, do I love these.
I think that the treble is rather neutral but it is a bit emphasized and is definitely on the bright side of things that I have heard. Personally, I prefer a brighter presentation and I absolutely love the AX35’s treble response. It is just around what I like and honestly, it is better than the MA750 and marginally, the DN-900. The reason why I like BA’s for treble is very evident here. It is very detailed and clear. I think that quantity wise, it is somewhere near my UM Miracle and DN-1000. So far I have not experienced sibilance even at higher volumes with any tracks I have tested this with. The DN-900 uses the identical BA driver but it is tuned differently and I feel like the AX35 has better detailing and overall I just feel like the AX35’s treble is more for me. Anyway, the treble on these is simply like nothing I have heard in the sub $100 range.
As some may know, I have always preferred the way that hybrids and dynamics present music as opposed to BA IEMs. Part of this is because of the more expansive soundstage. With the AX35 I really like the front row seat presentation. At times the music can sound intimate but at other times it is a little further away. Also, I didn’t feel like the presentation was in your head at all.
I know accuracy is perceived differently for different people. For example, a lot of people use the ER4S as a golden standard of accuracy while other people feel differently. I think the AX35 leans to the funner side of things and has more of a slight V sound signature rather than being neutral. However, it does sound very natural and has a realistic timbre to it. Usually I feel like neutral IEMs just don’t feel quite right with the drum beats so I prefer a somewhat boosted low end and the AX35 is just that. Also for instrumental music these do well as well.
I must admit, I am a little bit of a detail freak and I have never really been impressed at the $100 range other than the R50. However, I am truly blown away at how detailed these $80 gems are. I mean seriously, these are like nothing I have ever heard under $100. Yes, it does lose out slightly to the R50 and all other TWFKs for that matter, but it is priced a good $40 lower than the R50, is not as harsh and has a very solid bottom end unlike the TWFKs. Obviously it is not as detailed as the DN-1000, but nobody really should expect it to since it costs nearly 3 times as much. I don’t see anyone being disappointed here.
Vocal separation is rather impressive and I feel like it is on par with the MA750. Another IEM it is close to is the B2/R50/AX7. Despite them using 2 BA drivers to handle the entire spectrum as opposed to the AX35 having 1 dynamic driver for bass and 1 BA driver for the midrange and treble I don’t feel like the TWFKs have an advantage here.
Instrument separation is even better than the vocal separation and sometimes I feel like it even exceeds the MA750. This is quite a feat considering I thought very highly of the MA750’s separation.
Soundstage & Imaging
The soundstage is large – bigger than the DN-900 anyway. I feel like it is somewhere around the level of the MA750 actually. It is wide, but not as much as something like the DN-1000. It is quite tall and deep too.
Imaging is definitely one of its strong points as well. This is where it clearly beats the MA750 and the DN-900. It doesn’t have the pin point imaging that more expensive models do, but it is extremely impressive.
I’m going to briefly compare these to a few IEMs that are more or less in its price range.
Astrotec AX35 vs Hisound BA-100
Personally I like the way that the AX35 looks more and the Astrotec is also built better. The bass on the BA-100 is smaller and very nicely textured. However, the AX35’s bass is simply harder hitting and more detailed. It does lose out on speed though. I have to give the bass to the AX35 but not by much. The midrange is pretty similar on both models. They are both somewhat on the cool side. The BA-100 has a very slight artificial tone to it and it is very similar in clarity. This goes to the AX35 as well. The treble on the BA-100 is rolled off while the AX35’s is more prominent. Being a little bit of a treblehead my vote of course goes to the AX35. The AX35 has better separation, imaging and is a little more detailed as well. Now, the BA-100 does looks more low profile and isolates better, but I find that the AX35 does beat it by quite a long way. At its original price of $50 I would still highly recommend it, but at its current $100 price tag it is much harder.
Astrotec AX35 vs Shure SE215
Let’s start off with saying I love the Shure’s design. It isolates very well, it comfortable and has a detachable cable. However, I find the sound of the Shure rather mediocre at best. The bass is bloated, midrange warm and somewhat veiled and treble rolled off. Soundstage and separation wasn’t great and it lacked detail as well. Sorry, I just don’t see a fair comparison here. The Shure really sucks next to the AX35. I wouldn’t get it unless you can get it for cheap ($50-70) used or need the isolation (even then I’d probably go for some lower end Etymotics). For $100 these really disappointed me.
Astrotec AX35 vs Dunu DN-900
The Dunu DN-900 was a great IEM and it still it, but it sound a little shaky next to the AX35. The Dunu comes with a giant yellow case which I don’t like and an array of accessories. In that area they are better than the AX35 no doubt. When it comes to bass, I find both very impressive. They have similar way of presenting bass but the DN-900 has more and hits harder. However, the AX35 is faster and both are equally detailed. This is a draw. I find the midrange on the DN-900 a bit forward and very clear. It is even more textured than the AX35 so I have to give the midrange to the DN-900. The treble is a bit rolled off on the DN-900 and the AX35 is more treble friendly. Personally I prefer the AX35’s treble. The AX35 is more detailed, has better imaging and a bigger soundstage. I know I said that I thought the MA750 had better vocal separation but later I changed my mind and thought the DN-900 is just slightly superior. It beats the Astrotec in this aspect but the AX35 beats it in instrument separation. Here, I don’t feel like there is a winner – just two different sound sigs. If I had to pick one it would probably be the AX35.
Astrotec AX35 vs RHA MA750
The RHA MA750’s packaging really was rather impressive and so was the IEM. It looked stunning, better than the AX35 if you ask me. The bass is a lot fasted on the AX35 buit I did love the sub bass rumble on the MA750. The detail was ever so slightly better on the AX35 though. I have to call this a draw. The MA750’s midrange has a veil and I hate it. Luckily, this isn’t too bad but I liked the AX35’s mids much more. The MA750 is a dark IEM and it takes some getting used to. The treble is rolled off even more than the SE215 and favouring a brighter sound, I have to give this to the AX35. Soundstage and imaging is about even on these 2, but I think the MA750 may be a bit better. This is quite a feat for such a low priced IEM really. Vocal and instrumental separation is better on the AX35 but they are not too far apart. Both of them are exceptional really and it does come down to what sound signature you prefer and for me, the AX35 is the winner here.
So you may be thinking: wait, an $80 IEM can even beat the ones that cost significantly more (at this price point $40-$50 is a large factor)? And my answer would be yes, in this case definitely. I absolutely love my AX35 and they aren’t going anywhere for a while. They are slightly V/U shaped while still being neutral. This earns my highest recommendation.