I doubt there is a member of Head-Fi that frequents the portables forum who hasn’t heard of the ASG-1. Unbeknownst to some, the ASG-1 one was designed as a singer’s stage monitor, to be used at live events for short periods of time. What I gathered from my conversations with Dale Lott, CEO of Aurisonics, is that he never anticipated such a warm welcome from the audiophile community, and that he is pleasantly surprised by the attention.
The last 4 months have seen Aurisonics catapulted into near instant fame and success among the audiophile community. This has also brought about some level of criticism, especially from those who bought the ASG-1 based on the accounts of those who could immediately appreciate their sound signature. Much has been said about the ASG-1’s build quality, and many pictures have been taken, so I’ll try to keep my review mostly about the way they sound. I’ll be listening directly from my iPhone 4 at about 45% volume, and my laptop for one song. I didn’t notice any sonic improvements (apart from sound signature, and more signal noise from my laptop) when using amps or DACs with the devices I mentioned earlier. I was going to write my review using an EQ’ed ASG-1, but I realized that many will not have the access to a reliable device to reproduce my results. Even then, everyone’s ears differ…even on the same head. I’ll be using the GR07 as a benchmark of sorts throughout the review.
When Shotgunshane described the ASG-1 as not just mid-forward, but “mid-colored,” he took the words right out of my mouth. The ASG-1 is quite the enigma. I’ve encountered excessive bass bleed before, but this is the first time I’ve heard something like this. It’s almost jarring the first time you listen to it. However, the effect seems to lessen the more you listen to it, and I think the hours of burn in I put on them may have helped too. Ultimately, the sound has a sort of rawness to it that delivers excellent texture. It’s the only IEM that comes close to rendering percussion instruments and cymbals the way the GR07 does. At low-medium volumes, I can enjoy them both almost equally. The issue for me is that the sound is almost as if you’re sticking your head in a bubble. The effect is diminished after ~5 seconds, but there is a noticeable tint to the sound. Just imagine taking a normal photograph, and then applying sepia filtering to it. There is also a sort of echo that creates the shoutiness so many have talked about.
I want to avoid using the audiophilic jargon as much as possible, so instead of dividing up the sound into the classic mid/bass/treble that’s usually in reviews, I have chosen songs that somewhat represent my listening tastes in general and I’ll A/B with the ASG-1 and GR07. I will then choose the winner of each song. I’m using the Sennheiser biflanges (thanks Nulliverse!) on the ASG-1, and the Hisound Popo large triple flange tips (the bore is about as wide as the Jays tips) on the GR07. I welcome anyone who owns both to listen with me.
Adele – “Hometown Glory” – 19
This track is driven primarily by vocals and piano. I chose it because it showcases how good of a singer Adele is technically. The way the piano and her voice intertwine make for a very pretty song. The ASG-1 has very nice reverb of the piano, and the vocals are immensely detailed and they capture every breath and every inflection of her Adele’s voice. However, there is that tint that is over the sound. Going to the GR07, the sound becomes lusher, but I still hear the same amount of detail in the midrange with the addition of more upfront background instruments. I hear the violin more clearly, and the piano’s bass notes come through better. It’s hard to say, but it seems like the GR07 has more upfront vocals, since the sound of the ASG-1 is a bit distant in comparison. Winner: GR07
The Script – “Rusty Halo” – The Script
This track pretty much requires an iem to have good instrument separation and decent speed in all areas to present it coherently. There’s an abundance of cymbal crashes, snare snaps, and a constant bass line to keep you occupied. I don’t notice much shoutiness on the ASG-1 with this song. The texture is there, instrument separation is fantastic, and the overall sound is pretty nice. There’s still that tint to the music though that prevents me from all-out enjoying the song. Again, the GR07 doesn’t exhibit this characteristic and the added treble presence increases the sense of clarity in the music. To my ears, there is greater rumble with the GR07, and the drums and cymbals are simply unmatched. Winner: GR07
Stevie Wonder – “Superstition (live)”
I don’t listen to Stevie Wonder much, but this track is fantastic. I posted a link to it below this paragraph. I chose it because firstly it sounds so awesome, and second because it should play to the strengths of the ASG-1, since it’s a live recording. The mini drum solo at the beginning of the song is pretty sweet, and I couldn’t tell much of a difference in terms of weight, texture and tonality between the two iems. Here the ASG-1 is simply fantastic. I’m hearing Stevie almost like I’m the man himself, and the background instruments are really just supporting. The backup singers are just that…far behind, and Stevie is really the star of the show. I can hear the Aurisonic’s true intention on this track without question. With the GR07, the sound takes a step back into a spectator’s perspective. The increased treble gives the hi-hat on the drum kit more presence, and the background stuff is more audible. Stevie’s voice is still more prominent, but it doesn’t have that magical live presentation of the ASG-1. Winner: ASG-1.
Zack Hemsey – “Mind Heist” – Mind Heist EP
This track is what I would describe as epic. It was my favorite track from movie Inception, and I only recently learned the name (thanks vwinter). I don’t know how else to put it, but the GR07 simply destroys the ASG-1 on this track (to my ears at least). First off, the tint/bubble effect of the ASG-1 is especially annoying on this specific song; secondly, it seems the GR07 has more apparent bass rumble, better instrument separation in the treble registers (after 1:25, the ASG-1 becomes a mess), and far better texturing/instrument detail. Winner: GR07.
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile – “Franz and the Eagle” – Goat Rodeo Sessions
Everyone should listen to the Goat Rodeo Sessions at least once. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and this songs is just one of my favorites. This particular track features diverse instruments such as the cello, piano, mandolin, and fiddle. Again, the GR07 wins here, but not by much. The midrange tint throws off the tonality of the instruments a bit and overshadows some detail. For instance, with the GR07 I can hear the hammer strike the strings of the piano when a key is played in the instant right before the musical note is heard. This is something I just don’t hear with the ASG-1. Winner: GR07
As you may have noticed, the GR07 won most of the tracks. However, when I EQ a deep V on the ASG-1, things begin to get far more interesting. I immediately notice more detail, better timbre, and just a better sound overall. They are almost tied on all the test tracks .
Most audio products will have varying sound stages. I don’t trust ordinary songs to help me gauge an earphone’s true capabilities. Instead, I’d rather use binaural tracks that are specifically coded for sound cue location. My test track is the Virtual Barber Shop video on youtube:
Both exhibit the same out of head soundstage, and both have near pinpoint imaging on this track. The only difference is that the ASG-1 can throw sound cues a tiny bit farther than the GR07. Apart from that, I don’t detect the massive soundstage improvement some talk about.
The Aurisonics ASG-1 is a fantastic product. Would I recommend it? Well it depends if you’re willing to do some equalizing, or if you have access to the filters when they are released publicly. Either way, it’s undeniable that Aurisonics has staked their claim to the upper echelon of portable audio with the ASG-1.
Update: REVISION 1.2 (May 17, 2012)
As I stated earlier, the ASG-1 was originally targeted at the professional crowd who needed to hear vocals and mid-range oriented instruments above all else. Unfortunately, this midrange emphasis, combined with the materials used to build the shell, created a shouty effect that made some music downright unpleasant to listen to. On top of that, the severe mid emphasis literally colored the rest of the sound, something that is usually attributed to large bass emphasis.
So, to address this, Dale (CEO of Aurisonics) created a nozzle filter and driver dampening material that would smooth out the peakiness in the midrange, and lessen the echo of the shell. He also increased the size of the internal port. Below is the end result:
As you can see, the peaks at ~2 kHz and 4.5 kHz have been vanquished, the bass response has increased (more on that later), and the treble is flatter down the range.
The whole point of the ASG-1 was to address the "faults" of the original version. I am happy to say that every issue I described has been resolved. However, one problem has arisen.
I'll start off with the most glaring fault of this revision of the ASG-1. The treble.
It's refined, it's richly defined with timbre as good, or better, than the GR07 (yeah, I know). The problem is that there's barely any of it. This leads to an overall darker sound that I feel HAS to be EQ'ed to restore some balance to the sound. When I do EQ it, it's the best earphone I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. Below is the EQ is use on the Equalizer app for iPhone. As a matter of fact, it's just the "Treble Booster" preset. Though, this is my favorite EQ setting: +2.0 dB. 5000 Hz : +2.0 dB. 8000 Hz : +2.0 dB. 12000 Hz : +5.0 dB 16000 Hz : +5.5 dB.
My initial intent for this review was to continue the comparison with the Vsonic GR07, but there's really no point in going into detail. I've never heard my GR07 so utterly outclassed. The attributes that I could usually use to stand on a leg and defend the GR07 are simply done better by the ASG-1.2.
The most striking thing to me was the difference in POWER that the ASG-1.2 has over the GR07. I'm not just talking about bass response, but just in the overall sound is exuded by the ASG-1. It's really quite stunning, and makes my GR07 sound positively anemic in comparison.
The next aspect is the soundstage. I went from not hearing any discernable difference between the two, to it being a different story altogether. The greatest part about the ASG-1's presentation is the height of the soundstage. It's an involving, engaging experience that makes me not want to put it down. It's completely 3D, being able to throw cues in ANY direction.
The best part component of the ASG-1's sound, and the nail in the GR07's coffin, is the midrange. Now that the beast has been reigned in, it's become a magnificent animal that is capable of both power, and delicacy. I had maybe my third "wow" hi-fi moment when listening to John Mayer's "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room," and Taylor Swift's "Never Grow Up," and also her "Last Kiss" (I make no apologies for my music tastes, they are very diverse). Going back to my GR07 was just...underwhelming.
I had trouble recommending the version 1.0 of the Aurisonics ASG-1 due to it's problems. Would I version 1.2 over my previous favorite, the GR07, despite the diminished treble presence? A resounding yes. Reason being, you can EQ up the treble, but you can't add power and soundstage to an IEM.
In short, ASG-1.2 = AWESOME!!!
I was just going through the songs on my girlfriend's iTunes to see which ones I could pilfer. I don't listen to Beyonce much, but her song "love on top" sounds amazing on the ASG-1. This is the best I've heard her sound on anything. Just goes to show how great the ASG-1 is with vocals. This carries over to genres like rap, the good kind, not the trash that dominates today. I can hear the dynamics and emotions as the rappers spit their rhymes. Everyone should hear The Roots' "Undun" album, especially on the ASG-1.
Then, I was reading a_recording's review of the EX1000 and XBA-4 when I saw the bass test. The ASG-1 easily rumbles at 10hz and below. Plus, the texturing is far and away the best I've heard.
Whether it's burn-in or brain-in. I no longer feel the need to touch my EQ any more. I will say that the ASG-1 loves power. It sounds even better when amped, not for volume purposes, but to better control the massive driver.
Edited by eke2k6 - 8/7/12 at 1:56pm