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Aurisonics AS-2

Posted

Pros: Adjustible bass with real energy, rich mids and non-fatiguing treble to balance it all. It's a very envolving, lively sound.

Cons: Each person has their own preference for sound signature, read the review and see if it matches yours! Isolation is a possible con with vents open.


Synopsis: The Aurisonics AS-2 is a high-end custom-fit in-ear stage monitor with a lively, rich sound. It has a unique, crossover-free design that allows its 15mm dynamic driver and two special balanced armatures to work together seamlessly. With an adjustable bass port system, the AS-2 provides a real bass energy in just the amount you want. Combined with a lush midrange and an accurate, non-fatiguing treble to balance it, the AS-2’s focus on an organic, live feel to music will make it a hit with both musicians on stage and music lovers at home.


 

 

 

Introduction: Aurisonics entered the high-end professional stage and portable audio scene with a bang. Innovative designs (the very first of which was nominated for a TEC award last year), continual evolution and an openness to input from pro musicians and audiophiles alike, have made it a company to watch. In particular, many of us have been watching for the AS-2, Aurisonics’ flagship earphone. With the AS-2 custom-fit in-ear monitor (ciem) and the universal-fit ASG-2 rolling out, I knew I had to hear the best Aurisonics has to offer.

 

 

 

Aurisonics and its founder: Dale Lott may have just recently founded Aurisonics, but he has a long history in professional audio. With experience making high-end audio designs for military, aerospace (!) and professional sports applications as well as stage designs for professional musicians, Dale is way more than your typical audio engineer. He offered his expertise to some of the popular high-end audio companies and when they let the opportunity slip through their fingers, he opened up their his own company. Boy, are they going to be sorry! He’s bringing his experience to his in-ear monitor designs and the results are very interesting.

 

Before we start looking at the AS-2, there are some things that you need to know:

 

 

 

Custom Fitting: For a custom fit in-ear monitor, first you need to get the right fit. The process, as many of you know, involves going to an audiologist to make a set of impressions of your unique ears. Getting a perfect fit with a custom monitor is the key to getting the best sound, the best comfort and the best isolation. Your fit will be only as good as your set of impressions, so it’s very important to work with an audiologist who has experience specifically taking ear impressions for pro musicians’ stage monitors. Do not cheap out here, you will pay for it later! You deserve the best and it will save a lot of trouble. My advice is that the audiologist should use a 1” bite block—this holds open your mouth as the impressions are made. This is necessary because as you open your jaw to sing (or yawn, I suppose, it’s your music), the shape of your ear canal changes. Try to relax your jaw as much as possible during the process as that effects the ear canal as well.  Because each set of ears is unique, keep in mind that it’s a process that has the potential for an imperfect fit, either for sound or comfort. If that’s the case, contact the manufacturer (Dale, in this case) immediately. Don’t come here to whine, I can only offer sarcastic comments, whereas Dale will actually help you. That leads me to the next topic:

 

 

 

Customer Service:  Because we’re dealing with custom-fit design and no one has ears quite like yours, customer service is a huge consideration with ciems. It’s very, very important. Many companies have dropped the ball here, some catastrophically, some just by being run by people who don’t get customer service. Fortunately, Dale is a completely stand-up guy and Aurisonics has already shown itself to have excellent customer service in the year and half it’s been around. While there are always, and I do mean always, issues that will come up, Dale has your back and he will work with you and he will take care of you. What more can I say? Let's go to the AS-2:

 

 

 

The AS-2:

We’ll start with the price: It’s $800 and it competes with ciems that run hundreds of dollars more.

Buy them here

The AS-2 I reviewed is a review sample.

 

 

 

Design: The AS-2 is innovative in a number of ways. This starts with the drivers that actually produce the sound. Typically, customs use balanced armatures in multiple sets and have crossovers to divide which part of the music is produced by each armature. This often leads to a particular, artificially separated sort of sound. The TWFK family of dual armatures used for treble or midrange and treble in many ciems also has a slightly artificial sound due to a spike in its sound signature at around 5khz. Bass is as much felt as heard and armatures in a sealed earpiece also do not to produce the air-moving quality that allows us to have a sensation of feeling this real bass energy.

 

Dale overcame these issues one by one: First, by using a large 15mm dynamic driver that’s more like a miniature speaker for real bass. There is an adjustable bass port so each person can dial in the amount of bass they want. Next, for added treble performance, he combined this driver with two new, special armatures which have a more natural sound than the TWFK armatures. Finally, the way he combined these two driver types is also unique as he did it in a crossover free design, giving the AS-2 an organic soundstage that gives a much more live music feel.

 

He didn't stop there:

 

For better fit and comfort, the part of the AS-2 that goes into your ear canals has a special coating over the acrylic.

 

The socket where the removable cable meets the earpiece is one of the most likely places to fail on a ciem. Dale has a special reinforced semi-recessed socket design for greater reliability.

 

The faceplate has a unique design for reliability and easy servicing.

 

There are some patients pending on all this!

 

Take a look at my poorly-taken pictures (really, they do not do the AS-2 justice):

 

 

 

I have the black, stealth faceplates. For your AS-2 you can choose a different look entirely if you like.

 

 

 

 

The big round 15mm dynamic driver is easily seen.

You can just make out the two special armatures below it.

 

 

 

 

 

My ear is for display purposes only and does not come with the AS-2.

 

 

 

 

Isolation:  Isolation is the amount of outside noise blocked out by the earphone. Some people will want less isolation so they can be aware of the outside world for safety and other reasons (being aware when people are trying to talk to you, etc.). Many people will want more isolation because then they can focus on their music and at lower volumes. The AS-2 has moderate isolation with the vents open which can become quite good if you close the vents. With the vents open, there is wind noise, so if you go outside, you may want to close the vents which will eliminate it.

 

 

 

The Sound: I used the lovely Apex Glacier DAC/amp to drive my AS-2 for this review with high quality sound files on my beloved ol’ 5.5th gen ipod.

Note that the AS-2 is absurdly easy to drive. There always seem to be people who want high-end ciems but don’t want to use an amp that has the power to drive them properly. This is like buying a Ferrari and then putting cheap low-octane gas and flabby little tires on it. The AS-2 is perfect for people like this as it sounds great even out of an ipod. It’ll sound a bit better with a small portable amp, of which the Apex Glacier is one of several examples, but it’s quite easy to drive. For getting the very best performance, particularly with healthy, lower volume listening, consider an amp for your high-end custom in-ear monitor and better tires and gas for your Ferrari… 

 

 

 

Overall: The AS-2 excels at conveying the experience of being in a room where live music is playing. The overall focus is definitely on the total sound coming together in the room and rocking you. There is good detail there and excellent imaging in a very nice soundstage that lets you know where every musician is the room, but this is secondary. This is a very dynamic driver style sound—even though it’s a hybrid with special balanced armatures along for the show (and it is a show with the AS-2), the no-crossover design leads to a very organic, very coherent sound. If this is what you are looking for, you’ve found it with the AS-2.

 

This is a stage monitor by design and tuning and that means a few things you should know when considering the AS-2: You should expect a slight lift in the vocal range to bring male and female singers just a little forward and bring music alive. Although everyone has their preferences, I find this small lift in the tuning makes a big difference for an enjoyable listening experience. Without it, an initially great sounding earphone will start to lose its luster for me over time.

 

The second thing you’ll often hear in a stage monitor is a non-fatiguing treble. A non-fatiguing treble should still be able to sparkle, but it should also avoid spikes in the frequency response that lead to sibilance or a screechy sound. This stage monitor sound is just how the AS-2’s treble is tuned. That doesn’t mean you won’t hear overly bright or harsh high-pitched sounds in your music, just that the AS-2 won’t be contributing to that harshness coming from your recording or player/amp. Keep in mind, some people actually prefer a raspy or piercing treble as these can give the illusion of added clarity (as the listener goes deaf…). You won’t find that here, for which I’m thankful!

 

The final thing that a stage monitor will often have, but not always, is a bit of extra bass for drummers and bass players. The adjustable bass in the AS-2 goes way past 11, so it’s got this angle covered. I’d recommend keeping the bass vent mostly closed as just a little opening is all most people will need. Bassheads, however, (you know who you are) will be very happy letting the big 15mm dynamic driver breathe.

 

 

 

Treble: The AS-2 has a lovely, smooth, accurate treble. As I mentioned, it’s non-fatiguing, and doesn’t add any sibilance harshness or glare to what’s there in the recording or added by your player/amp. I tried out a few recordings I know that are particularly bright and the AS-2 gives you that brightness with a bit of the piercing glare polished down for you. I like the accuracy combined with a smooth sound. It’s very nice for long listening sessions and the AS-2 lends itself to losing yourself in the music. 

 

Perhaps it’s the special armatures used but the treble has great timbre for a ciem—the life-like reproduction of subtle resonances in voice and instrument that rings true to the listener’s ear. It’s simply superior to balanced armature based custom iems using the popular TWFK family of dual-armatures (which is many of them). Cymbal crashes sound great and natural, for example. The AS-2’s treble manages to give a detailed sound subsumed within the lush sound that the AS-2 seems to naturally flood the ear with due to the big 15mm dynamic driver. We’re not looking at an analytic or cold treble here, but one that brings immediacy and presence to your music. It isn’t recessed but nicely balances the power of the midrange and bass. Female voices sing out clearly in the rich mix of sound.

 

 

 

Midrange: These mids are rich, warm and they really bring music alive. While the AS-2 can easily keep up with fast music, it adds a thick, full, powerful sound to guitars, bass and strings. Male voices are resonant and clear as well. Other earphones may end up sounding dry and a little dull to you after you experience the AS-2.  Interestingly, I found the bass vent also gives a little added flavor to the mids. You can open up the adjustable bass vent more for an extra helping of this resonance in the lower registers or keep the bass vent only open a small amount for just a little added juice to the lower midrange which is quite nice.

 

 

 

Bass: The AS-2 gives you what bass sounds like. Real bass is felt as much as heard and for that you need a vented shell design for your earphone so air can move. I’ve heard audio engineers talk about how air movement with a vent shell earphone is important for ear drum and listening fatigue as well, but I can’t speak to that except to say I think the AS-2 lets you experience it for yourself. The AS-2 is qualitatively different from the typical closed shell balanced armature ciems out there in terms of bass. You are getting something that even the most bassy balanced armature earphone lacks. If you want that, you’ve come to the right place. If you don’t, well, you can close the bass vent entirely and…you’ve still come to the right place! The vent system means you can really choose what you want and you can go from a very polite bass all the way to bass that powerfully booms.

 

There is truly exceptional, superior sub-bass extension with the AS-2. The mid-bass is plentiful. I love bass and I needed to dial the AS-2’s adjustable vent down to just a little open. Dale himself told me he keeps his around ¼ of the way open—and that’s still a very good amount of bass! At that level, it's nicely controlled and has a great heft to it. If you go more than that...well you'll get more!

 

Just to be clear: If you close the bass vent entirely, you get very polite bass which is still present but stands a little behind the midrange—perfect for people who don’t want a bassy earphone. So, the AS-2 with the vent system is quite a versatile earphone.

 

 

 

Conclusion:  The AS-2 is a professional stage monitor with a very lively, organic sound where each part of the music comes together and rocks. There is great bass energy, rich mids and treble that sings while never shouting. Although the detail is all there for you, the AS-2 is for living the music, not picking it apart. Music just seems to flood your ear at every volume with the AS-2 and you can’t help but be moved. It’s an excellent ciem for those who are looking for the sound it so richly provides and I think it will be very popular both on stage and at home.

 

 

See here for comparisons with the Heir 8.A, Tralucent 1plus2, etc.!

Posted

 

Introduction

A few months ago I decided to get myself a pair of Custom In-Ear Monitors. I decided to buy the AS-1's as I liked the ideas behind them very much, but Dale Lott of Aurisonics surprised me and gave me a sneak preview before anyone else of what would come. The AS-2's I received are considered prototypes. I will go back and forth between calling them prototypes and regular AS-2's as I see fit due to what I know has changed or not since I received my pair. But please understand that they are very much indeed prototypes, as they were in my possession before the official release and also has one added and one missing component.

 

Pros

  • Stellar audio reproduction

  • Custom molded for a perfect fit based on ear impressions

  • With a perfect fit you hardly notice wearing them

  • Many different options for customization ensure you have a personalized product tailored to your aesthetic pleasure

 

Cons

  • Price doesn't scream, "throw me around and don't worry about losing me"

  • Added price of audiologist appointment or time to do it yourself with provided impressions kit

  • Bad impressions will give a bad fit and hurt your ears

  • Some hiss does exist when around items with strong RF signals or an electromagnetic field near the source when using them. It's not always, it's not even consistent, but it does happen, it comes with the territory of balanced armatures. It's nothing that would cause anyone to complain that they are unusable. It's hardly noticeable, but if you're trying to hear it you'll hear it at some point.

 

A Small Warning

This product was developed mainly for those people in the music profession. That is not a bad thing, but it is definitely something to remember as some other companies make products meant for consumers that are used by artists, but these have even more power and care taken to them and are stated to be for professional use only. I feel it is important to inform everyone that you should always listen at safe levels which is the case with all products, but especially ones that were not designed for consumers.

 

Features Breakdown

In this section I am going to break down what I think of all the features that appeared on the main page for Aurisonics when they announced the features and where the AS-2's would be launched.

  • 15mm Dynamic Driver

  • Next Generation Dual Tweeters

  • The AS-2's feature three sound components, one 15mm Dynamic Driver and two "Next Generation" Balanced Armature tweeters. The combination of which is spectacular to behold. 

  • Adjustable Bass Porting - For those of you who love your bass, and it's easy to see why with the AS-2's, this port will allow you to adjust the bass levels, but please be advised to practice extreme caution as these are made for music professionals, not for consumers. I wouldn't be surprised if you can rattle your head so much with the AS-2's that you hurt yourself. I've definitely pushed the AS-2's a bit hard on the bass and they never disappoint, but I still advise extreme caution in doing such things.

  • "Hyper-Coating" Comfort Tips - This is the feature I have yet to receive. I will be sending in my AS-2's for this treatment to be done. From what I understand it is a special compound developed that will help cling to your ear canal from your body heat and help the AS-2's stay in even better. I have had no problems without this, but I am curious to see what it can add to my experience and will report back later.

  • Recessed Connectors - Aimed at allowing for more durability and longevity of your In-Ear Monitors, the recessed connectors may be seen as a plus or a minus depending on your needs and if you want aftermarket replacement cables, as not all of them support recessed connectors.

 

Looks

 

Obviously as you can tell, the AS-2 Prototypes I own are quite flashy. This specific model has the polished shell exterior and a Chrome plated front panel. These are both separate options for when one orders the AS-2's. If one does not choose these options, the AS-2's will look a bit like the ASG-1's that jr.kong reviewed previously. They would have a frosted shell and a frosted plate. Options like the ones on my AS-2's will run you $1200. (Notes about pricing at the bottom)

 

Comfort

The comfort level of the AS-2's is a positive thing. Since they are custom made to impressions I sent in, they hardly feel like I am wearing anything at all. I have had many listening sessions that lasted only a few minutes, and many more than turned out to be hours. This is good for those of you that are musicians and for those that are not. The ability to not notice any fatigue or discomfort from a pair of headphones, or in this case In-Ear Monitors, is important and welcomed. Music professionals should have no fears about being able to use this on stage during a long set, or just for long mixing or listening sessions.

 

Accessories & Packaging

 

Similar to all other Aurisonics In-Ear Monitors, the AS-2's come with a Otterbox. Custom molded In-Ear Monitors come with the Otterbox 2000 to be precise.

 

Besides that, the AS-2's came with a little satchel to store the AS-2's in and a tool to clean up the area that the sound comes from, since it will build up with ear wax and need to be cleaned off every once in a while. All in all, nothing too great, but not lacking. I would have loved to see an included microfiber cloth to wipe off finger prints from the chrome panels on the AS-2's after insertion to my ears, but being that they do not need much more maintenance than that, a case to keep them safe and a portable case for on the go along with the cleaner tool was more than adequate. After talking with Aurisonics they are including a polishing cloth with plated versions of the AS-2.

 

Sound

The overall sound signature of the AS-2's is flat. Each of the three normal divisions of the frequencies are equally balanced with each other and this makes for a fun experience. The important thing about the AS-2's is that no matter how much I have tried boosting any single part of the highs, mids, or bass the overall sound from the rest of them is still superb and unaffected. Each section is well contained and little to no leakage between them means if you like it more bass heavy, go right ahead, you will still hear everything crystal clear. A song by Bassnectar called "Ping Pong" samples a ping pong ball bouncing around. The 3D imaging is amazing on the AS-2's, but if you turn up the bass levels you will still hear the clearness of the ball bouncing around like it was a leaky faucet dripping a drop of water in an otherwise silent room.

 

Treble

This is the area in which those two tweeters come into play. The highs are interesting on the AS-2's. It's this part of the AS-2's that I guess one would think the tweeters are standalone and separate from the 15mm dynamic driver in them, but to my understanding this is not the case. The balanced armatures in the AS-2 seem to compliment the dynamic driver to ensure that you are not just able to hear the highs, but also hear them well and enjoy them equally. Listening to music with really high notes hit by a vocalist is spine chilling. It's a great feeling to have something that hits hard as needed in the bass and still delivers like this in the treble space.

 

Midrange

The midrange of the AS-2's are lush. They are warm and inviting to you as a listener. I find the midrange to be perfectly tuned for the other frequencies to complement them. Similar to the treble, the midrange is quite airy making the two seamlessly co-exist in a unity of spaciousness and yet similar sound qualities. The midrange is airy and textured. It really makes you feel like you are there as you hear the pluck of the guitar in front of you. the tweeters used for treble levels mean the midrange is not overpowering the trebles at all. The midrange feels like so much of the rest of the AS-2's, which is a product that you can tell took some hard work and care to make and perfect. 

 

Lows/Bass

It's something I have been talking throughout lots of sections of the review and rightfully so. It's amazing how the 15mm driver inside this In-Ear Monitor performs so well with all the frequencies and realize that it also handles the bass at the very same time. The bass is crisp and clean. In the past with my headphones that I have had that were considered Basshead headphones, with great bass, I never had anything like these. On tracks I previously thought were mastered poorly because it's bass did not produce much rumble or have much depth to it. With the AS-2's, the bass still does not lack it's clarity and texture when testing with those tracks. The bass goes well below my previous headphones, the Denon AH-D2000's that have quite a history of Basshead territory in the audio hobbyist community. I highly recommend anyone worried about finding something that'll give them that bass craving they have but fear losing the rest of the frequencies or even just think it'll be too heavy. It's a bit hard to get a handle of, but I can't think of any other way than to say, the AS-2's will perform as close to how the master engineer for the song intended it to sound. If the song is meant to have light bass, that's how the AS-2's play it. Yet at the same time, if the next song calls for lots and lots of bass, it'll deliver that as well, nice and clean, without any change of settings. In actuality, that's how every headphone or In Ear Monitor should be, but I have never found one that does on such a consistent basis until the AS-2's came along.

 

Soundstage and other qualities

This is one of those things that one feels the AS-2's were made for. I got the AS-2's while I was going through finals at school and used them at first while studying. I was in the library one day and the track I listened to had a sample of someone clapping very far away. I instantly started looking to my right and their was not anyone their for about 20 feet, yet I could have sworn the clap came from that first person. I listened to the track again and realized it was something in the music, but it definitely made me know I had something special. I have been enjoying very much the use of live music recordings to see how large the soundstage really is. I've pushed it to where using stadium concert recordings you'd swear you were actually there. You can tell exactly where the band is positioned and if a member has moved around on stage. You can hear the slight nuances of the fans and figure out exactly where the microphone must have been if you look at a map of the stadium it was recorded in. The instrument separation is unreal sometimes in how well you can just try to only listen to the pianist or any other instrument and just completely get lost in only hearing that instrument as it's perfectly clear and is not being blurred by any of the other instruments during the song. 

 

To EQ or Not to EQ

For the AS-2's, the need to EQ like with the ASG-1's reviewed previously on the blog is not existent. I have tried it and it does not do the job like it should. The balance of the AS-2's already is amazing. The use of equalizers is meant to fix or account for the sound qualities of a less capable headphone. An equalizer for bass boost would look to help give that extra attention to the bass frequencies since they are not getting enough power to the headphone or are not as efficient at playing those frequencies as it is with other frequencies. The AS-2's do not have that. Every section of the frequencies that make up the spectrum that humans can hear is accounted for and level with each other.

 

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

The customer experience provided by Aurisonics is a treat to encounter. They are responsive and will work with you. This product is a gem to behold. Within moments of use it is obvious the amount of work and dedication that went into developing it and the things it is capable of are astonishing. If you are able to afford the price and are looking for a custom In-Ear Monitor, you won't go wrong no matter who you are. Whether you are a Basshead, love the sound of amazing vocals, or just enjoy music with no preference for anything to be particularly strong in any which way, the Aurisonics AS-2's are something to consider as they have lots to offer for anyone with a love of music.

 

MSRP: $799 for base model (No aesthetic options included)

Technical Data

8Hz - 25kHz frequency response
34ohm +/- 10% impedance @1kHz
Sensitivity 123dB @ 1mW
15mm dynamic driver
Dual next generation tweeters

 

Aurisonics AS-2's Page: Click Here

Aurisonics Facebook Page: Click Here

Aurisonics AS-2
Description:

Our new flagship product the AS-2 is a true world-class top-tier hybrid in-ear monitor. The launch of this new product is slated for July 12th at the Summer NAMM 2012 in Nashville, TN. Our booth number is 1700. Please join us and demo our latest product in the AS custom series the AS-2. Please stay tuned for more information regarding the release and pricing of this product.

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