Pros: Significantly better in almost all respects than any top tier universal I have used.
Cons: None, although UK and EU buyers needs to factor £94 customs tax into the cost.
I did have reservations here, what with Mitch being on the other side of the pond, particularly with regards to p&p and import tax. It turned out easy as pie. Impressions were booked and done in just 2 days, with Mitch receiving them just 2 days after. 3 weeks later (literally) my completed AUD-5X were shipped. Mitch even took a pic and posted it on Facebook just before sending them. He was friendly and incredibly efficient, answering emails within a couple of hours (despite the 8 hour time difference). Mitch is a top bloke who is clearly in this line of business through integrity and passion.
The import tax was pretty horrendous - £94 / $148 – which is something EU buyers need to cost into the retail price.
My Dreamearz arrived in very minimal packaging - a cardboard envelope - which gave no real protection on it's journey from Florida to the UK. This unfortunately lead to the carrying case being crushed on one side. Thankfully, the CIEM contained within were unscathed… but still, you can imagine my horror when I opened the envelope. I'd therefore advise any potential European buyers to specifically request Mitch to package accordingly ordering. With the jewellery-style case (which would otherwise be perfectly functional) written off, I took to using my AT hard case.
The included cleaning tool is decent enough, though perhaps less sturdy and effective than others I've received… but if you haven't already guessed, these things mean little to me when scaled against sound.
Being acrylic, the ASG-1s appear to be more solid than anything I've previously owned, barring perhaps the ASG-1s. I certainly don't have any concerns here. The included cable is the same generic Westone style cable that comes with many top-tier universals. It's exactly the same as the stock ASG-1 cable, and very similar to the stock SM3, so no complaints there.
Isolation / Comfort
Although I have no other CIEM as a point of reference, I can say with certainty that the AUD-5X isolate better than any universal I've used. My previous benchmark, the ASG-1, isolates significantly better than all else I've used, but the AUD-5X bests it, if only by a small amount.
In terms of comfort, I initially found a CIEM to feel a little odd - namely the sheer depth of insertion - but quickly became accustomed to it. After just 1 day I was surprised at how quickly they naturally slipped into my canals. I now find them incredibly comfortable, again, more so than any universal I've used. Needless to say, they fit like a glove, so thankfully no need for bothersome refits.
Before I get stuck into the gory details of my listening experience, I’d like to tread on the side of caution and highlight that any thoughts or opinions expressed are just that, rather than facts, and are more importantly formed in the context of my relatively limited IEM experience (see sig). That said, I hope my thoughts prove useful to others who teeter on the edge of top-tier universals, like I did, and are contemplating that oh-so-significant jump to customs.
All listening has been done with a Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable, through a Cowan J3, with BBE effects turned off and EQ set to flat. It's worth mentioning that I'm a fan off BBE effects and have no quarms with sneaky peaks in an EQ to achieve a desired preference. However, I have found that BBE enhancements sound somewhat synthetic through the AUD-5X - a first for me. I further found that the AUD-5X sig to achieve a signature balance that doesn't require any EQ enhancements. Despite this, I have experimented with subtle peaks at the top or very bottom, with extremely good results.
Ok, Mitch clearly didn't stick that sub-bass driver in just for show… The sense of power and depth is incredible, and unlike anything I've previously heard. This level of sub-bass capability is, by my standards, unprecedented. When called for, the AUD-5X digs seriously deep and hits equally hard. The mid-bass is equally impressive, giving punch and impact which do heavy genres real justice, and all without so much of a hint of muddiness in those lower mids (zero bleed here!) Speed is impressive and the AUD-5X demonstrates real agility, never sounding clumsy or cumbersome on my faster psytrance or death metal tracks.
Texturing and detailing are equally impressive, revealing tones, textures and nuances which were previously inaudible. What makes this all the more impressive however is that the sig on offer here is no way bass dominated, despite ample bass enhancement. As has previously been described with good affect, the bass is never intrusive or overly dominant, unless of course the song or genre intends it to be. In my case, the genre often calls for enhanced bass, so output / quantity is high on my priority list. That said, I listen to many softer / slower genre which would sound ungainly or muddy with enhanced bass, so I'd say my bass needs change regularly, resulting in on-going adjustment of EQ / amp settings. The AUD-5X adjusts perfectly to bass levels in various genres, conveniently eliminating the need for any adjustments.
For the above reasons it's difficult to quantify the amount of bass the AUD-5X actually puts out, as it changes significantly with track and genre. However, I'd say that it has the potential to belt out more bass, particularly sub-bass, than anything else I've heard. For example, with the J3 / ASG-1 (which is in no way a lean phone) I used an EQ setting of Mach Bass +3-4 and a +4db enhancement at 80hrz (wide). With the J3 + AUD-5X however, I have MachBass turned off, with no enhancement on any aspect of EQ, and they STILL put out more than double the bass of the ASG-1s.
And so it came to pass that for the first time, I truly understood the meaning of the word "transparency". I mean, I've always known the definition, but not until now have I gained insight - via the AUD-5X - into just how much it can transform the overall listening experience. Before the AUD-5X, transparency was just a word! Detail and clarity go beyond anything I've previously heard, but not at the expense of musicality. Indeed, the mids ooze liquidity, which coupled with the transparency, give the impression of sounds manifesting effortlessly as if from thin air, feeling more like the audial essence of music, as oppose to mere sound waves entering the ears via sound tubes.
The mids are just a little forward, but not so far as to make the AUD-5X sound mid-centric. Indeed, the balance achieved here is probably the best I've heard. Imaging and placement is... you guessed it, remarkable. Piano sweeps and percussion fills appear to cascade around my head with a meticulous precision I've not yet been graced with.
Immediately I was impressed by familiar TWFK sparkle and detailing, albeit a in slightly smoother fashion than that of the DBA-02 or B2. That's not to say that the high end on the AUD-5X it's any less detailed, but it does appear less aggressive, perhaps due a placement more in balance with the rest of the frequency spectrum. Whatever the case, transients are a real treat, particular hi hats and cymbals, which sparkle and ring with some of the best decay I've heard.
The detailed, articulate, yet non-fatiguing treble really leaves nothing to be desired. Although it's the only area that hasn't set a precedent for me, it’s certainly up there with widely acclaimed treble happy universals such as the FX-700 and DBA-02, at least on a technical level. In terms of personal preference, I'd say I prefer it, as it's comes across as much more natural.
Ok, you guessed it, yet another precedent was set for me here. The presentation impressed me as much as the mids and bass, i.e. significantly more than anything I've previously heard.Nothing prepared me for quite how much bigger music would sound through the AUD-5X. The width and depth of soundstage stretch significantly further out than I imagined they would, but as well as having this immense (by my standards) size, the soundstage is also incredibly 3D. The AUD-5X throws out cues from behind me, much like the SM3 and ASG-1, but in a more convincing manner. This adds a sense of realism to the music, which regularly blows my mind.
Imaging is incredibly precise - placement of individual sounds and instruments brings out nuances and details I never knew existed. Drum fills/rolls and piano sweeps are particularly impressive, cascading and panning around the head with incredible affect. The space between instruments is also incredible, creating a sense of separation which feels so real it’s almost tangible. This has caused me to truly perceive instruments being played separately in their own personal spaces, for the first time, which itself allows dynamics and subtleties in ambiance to wash over me like never before.
With the above you might expect cohesion to take a hit, with the mind getting caught up on individual details rather than the music as a whole (an issue I had with universals such as the DBA-02 / B2). Whether due to a technical factor I'm yet to understand however, the AUD-5X comes across as very cohesive. At no time have I thought "analytical", yet neither have I thought "musical", as the AUD-5X seems to somehow straddle that sacred ground between two.
Do I need one? Simply count the amount of times I’ve - quite unconsciously - written "better than anything I've previously heard”!
How much better though? Better enough to warrant the increase of price and ordering process? After all, making the jump from top tier universals to customs involves risk of being underwhelmed. I had to save up for over 6 months as well as sell off most of my gear, to get these. Am I underwhelmed? Hell no. Quite the contrary.
Some users may well perceive the various sonic improvements as incremental, but I'm certainly not one of them. Perhaps this is testament to just how much the AUD-5X punches above it's weight, or maybe it's merely me being particularly sensitive to sonic improvements. Whatever the case, I’ve felt absolutely no desire to look into my next pair of earphones. The AUD-5X has met my expectations and exceeded them.
Lastly, I'd like to thank Average_Joe for putting such time and dedication into his reviews. Without them I'd never have even found the AUD-5X, let alone risked buying it.