I've taken a huge liking to headphones - IEM's in particular. I like the idea of having my own personal PA system that I can take with me anywhere. With Rockbox being in such advanced stages, and such great low-impedance portable amps coming out, you can really seem to get any sound signature you wish out of a portable rig.
Enter, the Astrotec AX-60.
Packaging and accessories: Finally! IEMs that are packaged correctly! Sorry to make such a big statement out of this, but check out some of this neat gear it comes with:
Some spare filters. The tip of the IEM screws off, and you can replace it with these.
The actual "spare filter holder" plate is made of a lovely brushed metal.
The box itself:
The beautiful metal storage tin:
These tips (there was another pair of foamies, not pictured here. Same size, same colour):
And with the ear brackets (that I didn't try):
A faux leather pouch:
And wow – a metal tin. I've only seen this sort of thing with the likes of JH IEMs. On the Festival circuit, you might see a few JH metal IEM tins hanging around backstage, with peoples names on them. It's a really nice touch that Astrotec included this. I move around a fair bit, so strength in portability is really important to me. My Westone ES3X are locked away in a monitor vault, which is always thrown into my toolbag.
Build quality: Never mind the marks and scratches, just have a LOOK at these things:
They come in Silver or blue:
The cable looks detachable, but it isn't. It's a great feeling cable. In terms of microphonics, rubbing against clothes or anything else, no noise is detectable. When you pull the cable tight and strum it, you can hear it through the earpiece, but otherwise it's fine. Most IEMs have this problem.
Feel/comfort: I hope I'm not spoiled too much by my customs, but I had a few fit issues with these. I feel like they would be better suited for smaller ears. I'm told they are supposed to be worn “over the ear” like I wear my customs, so I just wear them that way.
It's a little fiddly to get them in, but once they are in, you don't feel them for a few hours. They are very light weight, so it's pretty effortless to have long listening sessions.
I've definitely had far more uncomfortable IEM experiences.
It takes the same tips as my Thinksound IEMs, and my HiSoundAudio Wooduo 2.
Quick foreword: I really don't subscribe to some of the common techniques people use to summarise sound signatures. When you build and tune a PA for a live venue, and have to take a lot of things into consideration. The idea that all sound signatures are either “U-SHAPED” or “FLAT” is ridiculous. It's just not that binary. Sound signatures are always far more complicated than this, and I can't help but feel a little dismayed when products get pidgeon-holed into either the “U-SHAPED” or “FLAT” pile. Anyway, enough complaining, back to the review.
Specs: Bandwidth Range: 8 Hz - 28000 Hz Sensitivity: 110 dB/1mw Impedance: 12 OHM Wire: 1.2m ± 0.3m Galaxy line Connecting plug: Ф3.5mm stereo gold-plated plug Rated power: 3 mW Maximum power: 10 mW Bass:
Curse you, Astrotec. Curse you for making this product. I am a self-admitted basshead, and these things are an absolute dream. I have loved the Westone 3 for years now, and in the bass department, the AX60 dynamic driver dances rings around the W3. It's not just the sheer visceral impact that you notice, it's the deep-reaching sub-bass that people so often mistake for “bass decay”. It's great to hear it in an IEM. My tests indicate that the volume of the mid-bass is only slightly higher than the sub-bass. To me, that is INCREDIBLE. How is this even possible in an IEM? I found myself reaching time and time again for my “guilty pleasure” bass-heavy music, and just letting it wash through my skull.
IEM Bass, done perfectly.
My (subjective) tests indicate that the bass is the same volume at 70hz, all the way down to 30hz before things start getting a little more laid-back. For an IEM, this is INSANE. By comparison, the Westone 3 had a huge difference in volume between 70hz and 30hz. This is not by any means a bad thing – it just depends on preference.
Even when listening to acoustic or classical recordings, the bass gave a lovely warmth to the tone. It wasn't overpowering, but that little dynamic driver certainly lets the listener know who is boss.
It's worth noting, that when listening to a bass-heavy track, it MIGHT drown out the mids a little. It mostly depends on your source, and the track itself. The sheer visceral thump and drive is pretty intense. You can definitely tell that you're in “dynamic” land, instead of balanced armature territory.
Mids: Now things are getting interesting. I'm detecting the crossover point to be at around the 220-280hz mark. A very smooth transition – well done, Astrotec. Not an easy thing to achieve. It certainly wasn't easy to pinpoint, and my test was only subjective.
Some are saying the mids are “recessed” but I don't personally feel this too much. The mids are very revealing – I always get really excited when I can use an IEM to detect all of the issues in a 128kbps track. I always get a little wary when I can make low-bitrate tracks sound “fine” - the Astrotec will not allow for it. It's incredibly revealing in its midrange.
As another user (H20fidelity) has stated before me, there is a lovely “warmth” to the mid-range. It's focus sits nicely in the vocal range, making a lot of acoustic/vocal tracks really emphasise the artists tonality and mastering.
Again, depending on the genre you're listening to, this might drastically change. When I first tried them, I felt that the mids were a little recessed, but that's compared to the ES3X, which isn't a very fair comparison.
Things are getting a little “Tip-dependant” here. With my olive tips, I had a little trouble with sibilance. With comply tips, however, this was all cleared up. The highs (with the olives) were giving me a little trouble between 8-10k. This was easily EQ'd out, and wasn't a problem with complies. Actually, these were quite pleasant with complies.
There is SO much detail up here. It's unimaginably engaging. For an IEM that is so good with electronic music, one would imagine that for classical or string pieces, the results would be vomit-worthy..
..You would be incorrect. I found myself, time and time again, reaching for the AX60. They really do bring out the detail in high-quality recordings, and will bring any flaws in lower-bitrate tracks to light.
I hate that I have to comment on sound-stage for an IEM, but here we are. It's expansive, and huge. How is this possible? They are just little monitors in my ears. How is it possible that the imaging is SO accurate with these? It's like no IEM I've heard before.
Best sound-stage I've ever heard in an IEM.
Overall opinion of sound: Honestly, these IEMs feel like I have a really great speaker set up, with a huge sub attached. They sing and shine so well with acoustic and classical pieces, then when the electronic music is played, or that ocean drum is slammed, the visceral bass attacks you from out of no-where. It really catches you off-guard, and I have to admit:
I love it.
I only have these for a week to review, but I'm worried about how it's making me feel about my Westone 3. I'm very biased torwards Westone, I own multiple Westone products, so naturally, I assumed that the Astrotec wouldn't hold a candle to the mighty 3-way warrior.
In terms of sound quality and accessories.. I was wrong.
Just be sure you test these out first, and get a good fit, to make sure they aren't too sibilant.
Help me. I thought I was never going to buy another IEM after my ES3X.. Now I'm worried. Currently in talks with my bank (GF) over whether I am allowed another set of IEMs.
Value for money: Honestly, where I live, the Westone 3 will set you back the same $399 that the Astrotec AX60 will.
It depends what you value more, but considering the accessories, build quality, tonality, dynamics and versatility of this IEM.. I would say that $399 is an absolute steal.
Whether or not it holds up, durability wise? Only time will tell.
Would I personally buy a set of these? Yes, in a heartbeat.
These are currently on tour, being sent to a select few lucky users to try out, so sadly I must part ways with them at the end of the week.
A HUGE thanks to Billy, from Noisy Motel, for instigating this tour, and for supplying the gear.
Pros - Excellent bass quality and quantity, nice mids, great quality design and materials, great range of accessories
Cons - Treble very tip dependent
I've just finished reviewing these hybrid earphones and would describe them as great value for someone looking for an IEM with awesome bass (both quality and quantity), and an engaging, dynamic sound. They don't push the sound too far in any direction to make it sound unnatural, but they're also not an accuracy-focussed IEM.
The treble can be a bit harsh depending on the tips used and the bass will sound sloppy if the wrong filter is used (they come with 2 different filter options), but with the right tip and the right filter, they're as good as anything up to the same value (AUD $399) if you're looking for something to get your foot tapping and head bobbing.
My full review is over here: http://passionforsound.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/astrotec-ax-60/