Pros: Overall Sound Quality, Good Build Quality, Great Detail Retrieval
Cons: Un-useful Cases, Very Plain Packaging
Astrotec seems to be a relatively new company to join the higher end IEM business and when I was offered an opportunity to borrow the AX-60 for a week for me to give my impressions, I jumped at the chance. I enjoyed that a lot that I was prepared to buy it, until I walked into the Noisy Motel and Billy showed me the AX-7, the model under the AX-60. I listened to it and I was shocked, in a good way.
Anyway, at the start of the year I was using a Brainwavz B2 that was absolutely terrible but I had gotten used to it back then and thought that it was pretty good. As many of you know, the B2 is based on the infamous TWFK design, which is known for a particularly hot treble. After that experience, I told myself that I would never buy another TWFK only driver IEM again.
Picture of the AX7 from the internet.
After I listened to it, Billy asked me how it was and I told him that it was great and he told me that it was a dual BA IEM and being the curious person that I am, I asked him what drivers it was based on. And he told me that it was a TWFK driver IEM and I really was shocked. Finally, a TWFK IEM that has bass, not too sibilant highs yet maintaining the same detail level. The best thing is that in Australia, it’s only $AUD189. From MP4Nation, they are $US165 I believe, so a bit cheaper than in Australia, but you get local warranty so I got them straight away and walked out of the shop with a smile on my face. Yes, they are cheaper from random dealers on eBay, but I would avoid them.
**Disclaimer** I am in no way affiliated with the Noisy Motel or Astrotec and I purchased these myself. They were not given to me as a review sample. This review was written while using the stock filters that were already on when I opened the box.
Most of my listening was through my DX50, but I did use the HDP-R10 (very overkill) and the Sansa Clip+/Fiio E6. I feel like they sound great with a Sansa Clip+, but they really are taken to another level with the DX50 and HDP-R10. Through a crappy source like my SGS3, the sound is quite grainy and the bass is quite loose and lacks some impact. My DX-50 is much better in this regard, widening the soundstage, adding separation, clarity and especially bass quality. Going up to the HDP-R10, the difference really wasn’t that great and the biggest improvement was the increased soundstage.
The Astrotec AX7 with my DX50
Unboxing & Accessories
The box was a major letdown for me. It’s just a plain cube like cardboard box with a few boring pictures. When you first open it, you are greeted with the AX7s and 2 pairs of tips. Then, lifting that up, there is a metal case and in it are 2 rubber tubes (not sure what they are for), a pair of foam tips and an extra pair of treble filters. Under that, there is another case, but this one is a soft one.
The AX7 with everything that it came in. The shirt clip was one that I found and wasn't included.
Honestly, I’m not sure that I will use any of them because the metal one has no padding whatsoever and the IEMs will probably get damaged inside the case. The soft one doesn’t offer much protection at all. The tip selection is very basic. Just a small, medium and large pair which remind me a lot of Sony hybrids but they have a slightly larger bore. The Sony hybrids have slightly more bass but a smaller soundstage and overall, I prefer the stock tips. The filter is a treble one as I mentioned above and it makes it sound more like a B2, DBA-02 MKI or Rockit Sounds R50. Personally, I wouldn’t use those, but if you want a bit more treble, those may be the way to go.
The treble filters. They screw on to the tip.
Design, Isolation & Cable
I actually really like the design of the AX7. It is very well built with a full metal body and it looks quite attractive. There are strain reliefs on the IEM housing where the cable enters, but none on the y-split and only a bit on the plug, but it does seem very sturdy and I’m not afraid that it will fail anytime soon.
The isolation is above average and a bit better than my GR07 MKII and the other TWFK based IEMs. I would say something in between 3.5 and 4 on ljokerl’s multi IEM review scale. It is completely enough for everyday use.
The cable is made out of silver and copper (that’s what I was told) and isn’t the most flexible and easiest to use, but it’s not too bad. There is quite a bit of microphonics when worn straight down, but it is nonexistent when worn over the ear.
Picture of the AX7's Y-splitter and 3.5mm plug from Amazon.
Sound quality is ultimately what makes and breaks a headphone and I am pleased to say that I absolutely love the sound of these. Like all my other reviews, the sound section is split into 3 main parts – mass, mids and treble. Here we go!
Bass has almost always been lacking in a TWFK based IEM and if I had heard that these were a TWFK IEM, I would have thought that the bass was lacking quite some impact. However, the bass on the AX7 is very pleasant and has good impact, even though it is still a bit less than neutral. It is very punchy with good impact and no bloat at all; the bass is a lot cleaner than the majority of IEMs that I have heard in any price range. It does have more bass and overall warmth of the Sony EX1000 by memory though. The bass quality is great and the details in each drum beat are easily discernible and the sub bass rumble is very pleasant and well controlled, not going over the top in any instances. The bass is terrific with great control and decent impact without muddying the sound at all. I do wish that it had a little more impact like my GR07 MKII though. But, I must say that where the bass lacks in impact, it more than makes up for it in detail and speed.
When I first heard these, I thought that the midrange was a bit bright, but after a while, I realised that it was because it was a bit brighter that my Vsonic’s midrange. The one thing that I really like about TWFK based IEMs is the midrange and vocal clarity that they have and I am happy to say that the AX7, while having a warmer, more neutral midrange still retains the clarity of the brighter TWFK IEMs. The midrange is very neutral, maybe tilting just a bit to the slightly warmer side after more listening, it actually seems to be very neutral. Even though it is a bit warm, I do not feel like it affects the female vocals. Both male and female vocals sound excellent, even better than my GR07 MKII. You feel like the singer is standing a few metres away from you and you can hear everything that comes out of their mouth. At normal listening volumes, I did not notice sibilance at all in the vocals. Instruments were also rendered realistically and the AX7 certainly presents the midrange in a very pleasant, not fatiguing way.
Every TWFK driver IEM I have heard has had a very bright and sibilant treble, but this is different and is the first TWFK IEM that has a fun but non fatiguing treble. Being a TWFK driver IEM, I guess however well you tune it; it is still going to have an elevated treble. At higher volumes, cymbals can get a bit harsh, but at normal listening volumes I would hardly call the cymbals harsh or sibilant. I find that an IEM need to have a slightly brighter treble for cymbals to sound realistic and exciting and that is exactly what the AX7 has done. Very nice detail and the decay is just right. Trumpets sound exceptional as well with the slight treble boost. Te extension is great and higher registers where other IEMs roll off can easily be heard. It is just so energetic and fun. I do find that this treble is better than an IEM with a more neutral or rolled off treble. For me, the highlight of this IEM was surprisingly, the treble.
The presentation isn’t very spacious, but it does feel like there is a stage in front of you and not around you like some other IEMs. The one gripe I have with it is that it sounds a bit in your head, which is a bit annoying, but you can’t expect a perfect IEM for under $200 right?
By accuracy I mean how much it sounds like a live performance and how neutral it is. On a live performance level, I do feel like it recreates the song incredibly well and everything sound very realistic. However, it is certainly not a neutral IEM, being on the bright side on a whole. I still think that it is more enjoyable than a completely neutral headphone like the HD600 though. If you are looking for a neutral IEM, these probably aren’t a great choice.
Soundstage & Imaging
I do feel like the soundstage is pretty average for its price and it isn’t particularly impressive like the EX1000 or the IE8, but it isn’t bad, just not impressive. It is around the size of a B2 or R50.
Imaging is rather good though, but on more congested tracks it may be harder to tell where instruments are because of the not impressive soundstage. But on normal tracks, it does do very well.
I was actually quite impressed by how well these did in terms of instrument separation. Obviously it isn’t at the level of the EX1000 and such, but it is just about on par with Westone 4 from memory, but take this with a grain of salt because I did not have one for side to side comparison. Overall, it is very good indeed.
One reason I decided to buy this was how detailed this tiny thing was. One thing that I have realised is for microdetails, BAs seem to do better than dynamic drivers overall. I seem to be hearing more details than my already detailed GR07 MKII. Honestly, I don’t think that an IEM can have better detail than this under $200. Even much more expensive IEMs like the Rhapsodio RDB v1 and Astrotec’s own AX-60 doesn’t much more if any more detail than the AX7. The detail is one of the major points that sold me on this.
The AX7 with it's 2 cases.
The audio world is very much about preferences, what sound signature you prefer and this comes so close to being perfect for me at just $189. Honestly, I think that if I had never heard higher end stuff before, I would be absolutely content with the AX7 and a DX50. This is highly recommended to anybody who likes a brighter sound signature. These little gems are keepers for sure.
Edit: dropped half a start because the smooth metal parts scratch rather easily.