Pros: Great midrange, fantastic imaging and soundstage, superior comfort and great natural timbre
Cons: Rolled off treble, long burn-in period, lacking detail
I quite literally took a shot with these after the NY Meet. It was between these and the UE900s and I'm rather content with the decision, from the cable to the build, to the fit. Everything works. These are clearly stage monitors tuned so you can ear voices clearly and exact positioning of instruments. Because of this they have a great and slightly forward midrange. However for what they do they do fantastically. I was considering giving them 4.5 stars but I really couldn't think of any reason to shave off that 0.5 star at the price point of $300. I probably would have if they hadn't burned in though. The sound was rather warm and lacking in extreme detail especially in bass. It was punchy but overall unimpressive at $300 price point. These need to be burned in for over 100hrs. I personally did 150 and they really opened up in so many ways. To note they are still a bit on the warm side, but they are more balances with a slight midrange bump.
Setups used: Primarily Cowon J3 > ASG-1. Also tested with D2 > ASG-1, HP computer > NFB-11 > ASG-1, Sansa Clip+ (rockboxed) > ASG-1 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus (alternating between Neutron and Play Music) > ASG-1.
Format used is from lJokerl.
Accessories: (4/5) - For me the most important accessories are the tips. I can do without extra cables I don't need and all that is really needed is cleaning tools, a case or pouch and a 1/4 inch adapter. This has 2/3 things that I wanted, all it lacked was the adapter. Which really isn't a big deal. The tip selection is magnificent though. 2 sets of bi-flange tips, and 3 sets of single flange tips. And they are well chosen too.
Build Quality (4.5/5) - The housing is plastic, but rather thick with removable silver coated copper braided cable. The housing isn't as strong as say my former HJE900s, but overall, I feel these are better built. The recessed CIEM (or Westone as I've heard it referred to as) two pin cable port really lends to a solid and stable connection, which will prevent damage to both the housing and the pins if anything gets caught, or if you tug on them. Naturally the case it comes in is a tank, it is a clear water resistant (proof? but I never say that, because it probably isn't 100%, but good enough so that if it somehow reaches water your IEMs will be protected) Otter Box case. Also, according to Dale, the IEMs have been treated with a coating to protect against UV damage and discolouration. Which is a big plus especially since I've heard that these can discolour. However even after 80 hours of usage and 70 hours of pure burn-in, there has been no noticeable discolouration. Overall these are really solidly built IEMs. The housing is light but strong. It is a two part system with a cover screwed on with Torx screws. (Probably to make easier for servicing if the need ever arises)
Isolation (4.5/5) - Better than most other IEMs I've heard, even with single flange tips. The 4.5 is with double though, but there is some comfort issues, but the single flange tips do an amazing job while not being totally invasive. Certainly the best I've heard (or rather not heard). This was previously held by UE Super.Fi 4. The only IEMs that I've heard in generics that could beat these are the HF2/3/5 from Etymotic. But those are incredibly invasive. I'm sure I can get equal isolation with other tips, but currently with the tips they give you it is pretty fantastic. I'm not sure how other tips like the Sony Hybrids would fair, but I've already tried the Hifi Man large bi-flange tips, and they didn't work at all well with these IEMs, even though they probably would have lended well to higher isolation. The tips are quite well chosen, and a far cry from the poor tips that I've heard about in older revies (rev 1.0,1.1 mostly)
Microphonics (5/5) - There is barely any. Seems to me that over the ear fits tend to fair better here. Unless the cable is rubbing on a zipper or something I can't hear it. And even then it is minimal. And if you wear them around the back, like I've been shown by Ultimate Ears at the meet-ups, this is nonexistent. I have tried to get microphonics to occur, by rubbing the wire against zippers clothes and even themselves. While there is some, it isn't much. And if I'm not trying I don't hear anything. It gets even better when I use the Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable, as that is smoother and eliminates even intentional microphonics.
Comfort (5/5) - First set of universals I've ever had that I literally have zero comfort issues. Dale has stated that he has designed these after analyzing 1000s of ear mold impressions and creating a size and fit that works for most ears. And I believe him. The tips are soft, and the fit is light and I can forget they are in my ears. And the fact that they sit in the ear, allows me to sleep with them. I've never really been comfortable with sleeping with IEMs before, so this is a first. The only time I had comfort issues was when I was wearing 180s ear muffs over them. However that was more due to the fact of uneven pressure especially on the back of the IEM, which not only messed with the seal but also applied pressure to my ear. It wasn't wholly uncomfortable, but more annoying.
(Obligatory in ear shot?)
Sound (9.3/10) -
Bass: Initially I felt the bass was too close to the midrange, and not enough highs to compensate, leading to a rather warm sounding IEM. After extensive burn in this changed. The bass became tighter and more controlled. I can't say for certain that it became less or more, I'd say it more or less stayed the same. The bass is still leaning to warm even after burn in, but it isn't nearly as bad. After burn in, the signature doesn't change, but it becomes more balanced with itself. I'm pretty certain if I looked at the FR graph it wouldn't change shape, but amplitude.
In terms of what the bass is like, it is accurate, and punchy. It has a bit of a decay, but it is about the same as many other dynamic driver IEMs I've heard. If anything I'd say this has the least decay of most others I've listened to in the past. Though the decay allows for a natural sounding timbre that is rather musical. And that is really what these IEMs are about overall is musicality. I stated in my thread that it is perfect for a "fun" IEM. And I still stand by that, if the curve was more V or U shaped, it would be.
The ASG-1s have an uncanny ability to work really well with bass amount and reach very low subbass, but mainly be focused in the midbass. Basically, the lows reflect the highs. The subbass is just not as forward as the midbass is, and the midbass is almost linear with the midrange (to my ears). Again, this lended to the warmth I heard when in my initial review.
Midrange: This is some of the best midrange I've heard from an IEM ever. It is slightly forward (it was more so before burn in). I feel like some midrange peaks were shaved off after burn in creating a smoother response. These were designed as stage monitors so a slightly forward midrange makes sense for the ideal of hearing voices. And voice-centric music is phenomenal on these. It gets to the point where I can distinctly identify each voice, despite these not being Balanced Armerature IEMs. As stated they were initially more forward, but I feel like burn-in pulled them back somewhat and shaved any peaks off allowing for other frequencies to shine, especially the treble, which being already rolled off, having midrange that overshadowed it, hurt the overall spectrum. However, if you are looking for a dynamic driver with a fantastic midrange these are it.
Treble: This is where it gets tricky, because the treble is good but not without fault. The treble has roll off so that is nonfatiguing. This was done intentionally for the purposes of being stage monitors, so it is understandable. The treble is very smooth and only gets more smooth with burn in. When the midrange gets pulled back the treble can shine. The extension is fantastic, and these really sing with the right kind of music, like jazz and classical or even EDM and Chiptunes. For music that requires a bit more sharpness to it, like rock, these leave something to be desired (that can be fixed through EQ). That isn't saying they sound bad with those genres, but they don't wow either. But this is the price you pay for nonfatiguing treble. And honestly, in some ways it is better. you can EQ more treble, but you can't magically EQ smoothness into treble. The benefits far out weigh the cons of this tuning. While EQ might help, it is not necessary after burn-in. Before full burn-in, one might find themselves increasing the treble to limit the warmness of these, and give a bit more sparkle to the rolled off highs.
The highs are also not as forward as I'd like. With the midrange being pulled back this is less noticeable, but it is still something I can hear with certain songs in my library. They aren't really very recessed though, just not forward enough in certain frequencies (and I'm sure if I had the training or the tools to create an FR graph, I could pin point that, but unfortunately I'm unable.
Imaging, Soundstage and Instrument Separation: All three of these are fantastic, especially the former two. I honestly don't think I've heard better imaging and soundstage from an IEM. These are almost on par with some full sized headphones I've heard. Instrument separation isn't perfect though, nor did I really expect them to. I can't compare that to well tuned BAs. However, in comparison to other dynamics it is fantastic. And with voices and imaging, I sometimes feel like I could draw a diagram of the stage or recording studio. I've heard some TOTL IEMs before and these can't compete with instrument separation, but with soundstage and imaging, they are probably just as good, and perhaps even better in some cases. (Granted I've never spent extended amount of time with them, so I can't say for certain)
Overall: For $300 these are probably the most overlooked stage monitors I've seen. They do everything well and little wrong for a dynamic driver IEM. These are what I now compare others to in terms of soundstage and imaging, because they are just that good. If you are looking for a slightly less than neutral, but natural sounding stage monitor, these are definitely the ticket. If you are looking for just a musical IEM for jazz and classical, I'm sure there are others at this price point, but these should not be over looked. I'm really happy I didn't. I chose these over the UE900s, and am happy I did.
Additional thoughts (and initial impressions with Silver Dragon): These are fairly sensitive IEMs, which is both a blessing and a curse. I don't need as much volume to drive these well, but there is less of a gradient to play with. And with the Silver Dragon, that impedence seems to be lowered further (I can listen a notch or two lower on my J3 with the Silver Dragon depending on the song) The Silver Dragon I also perceive slightly more forward treble. Though this might be placebo from expectation, and I can't be sure, the rest of the sound from these seems largely unaffected. In terms of comparing cables, I'm rather torn. I like the build and quality of the Silver Dragon, but like the memory cable on the stock. They both have advantages and weaknesses. I'm happy I have both, but I feel like I'd be using the Silver Dragon more for every day usage.
These also totally changed my perception on burn-in. These are the first headphones I've ever owned that had a perceivable difference after a long burn in, that wasn't just psychoacoustic. Yes there was some of that, but considering that I switch between headphones constantly at home, the affects of that were limited.
And the fact that these can be upgraded with two BA tweeters effectively making them ASG-2s is fantastic as well. The ability to tune these could very well be a game changer. The Aurisonics team seem really keen on getting this right for each and every one of their customers.
And here are two additional photos that I had...