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In-Ear item created by lin0003, Jan 25, 2014
Pros - build quality, design, cable, design principle
Cons - sound quality, isolation, in-ear fitment
I am not a basshead or on that induces drugs of any kind prior to auditioning. In fact to be frank, I was so guttered, I felt I had to write something that was short and truthful for fellow head fiérs. I am writing with a tearing heart. Despite all that is on paper that is good about this IEM, I see very little tangible realisation of its design or design principle.
I am not sure if it my ears or my unit, but the sound produced was absolutely tasteless. The best noise it makes is when the metal shells bash each other and makes the *chunk*...because thats got more bass than what my pair can ever make. Free to a good home that is deafen to bass.
By the way...its got audio quality rating just for making some noise that is marginally better than ***** cats fighting it out at night but will still probably put my $80 on this IEM on the ***** that fights the loudest!
Pros - Beautifully made
Cons - Messy top end lacks finesse
I hate to be critical about something so well put together and I know these have received high praise elsewhere, but sonically, these do nothing for me.
The easiest way to sum them up is to say that they have a sound which reminds me of PA speakers i.e. a little to much low end coupled (not very well) with a somewhat messy and unrefined top.
In a strange way though, the superb build quality alone makes them worth every penny, I just cannot listen to them.
Edit: See my comments....
Pros - Great Build Quality, High-Quality Cable, Happy Medium in Sound Signature and Sound Quality
Cons - Average Fit/Comfort, Time Coherence Issue of the Prior Art AX60 and Other Hybrid Designs Not Solved
Chinese/HK headphone manufacturer Astrotec is known for its value-priced products (beginning with their lauded AM90), and they've stuck to their guns by pricing the AX35 (and its near identical sibling AX30) aggressively at under $80. The list price for the AX35 in Mainland China is 399 RMB (~$65 USD), while the AX30 is priced at 299 RMB (~$49 USD). Current eBay prices for the AX35 hover around $70 USD. Considering the overall quality of build and acoustic design, the lower end of Astrotec's Hybrid Series certainly promises to deliver a lot for the coin.
It hasn't always been this promising, however. Months ago, I purchased Astrotec's flagship hybrid model, the AX60, and was sorely disappointed. During my listening sessions, I sensed a disconcerting disconnect between its ponderous, half-a-beat-late bass and its razor sharp treble. Despite my best efforts to appreciate the strengths that the AX60 brought to the table (i.e. immense build quality), I just did not think it was a very good product and I let Astrotec know about my opinions sans self-censorship. While my feedback was somewhat scathing, I set out to let them know exactly what they could improve on, and sent the AX60 on a world tour, where the reaction from other members, like my own comments, have been mixed.
Astrotec couldn't have been too happy to hear that the flagship product they spent years developing and patenting wasn't quite put together, but it seemed that they were determined to make hybrid IEM technology work --- I was promised that they'd do a lot better with their subsequent models. I had my doubts, however, as not even venerable AKG could get the hybrid modality quite right, even with a $1400 earphone in the K3003. Not phased, Astrotec sent me a sample of the AX35, perhaps in an effort to redeem themselves.
Fortunately this time, I believe they have.
Packaging, Accessories, Build Quality, Ergonomics & Comfort
The AX35 came in a small, self-contained box that proved to be drama-free even for any baby mamas. Inconsistent typeface and layout quibbles aside, the earphones were packaged well. Sandwiched between the various layers of foam padding were the earphones themselves, as well as an aluminium tin that held various accessories, such as a pair of ear hooks, and several sets of ear tips.
I'm not an ear hook type of person, so I never bothered to try them on. They seemed just like any other set of ear hooks on the market. It's good to know that they included a set for the people that desire using them, though.
As for the ear tips, three sets of single flange silicone tips have been provided in various sizes. I dislike them all. They don't seal very well in my ears, and don't feel very comfortable. Acoustically, they perform well, however, so if you have no problems with their comfort, then stock tips will be no problem at all.
The extra set of foam tips provided are truly great. They're a tad bit softer than the Comply T-400 tips they're designed to emulate, but they feel very nice.
The earphones themselves were strongly reminiscent of the AX60, whose outward build quality was arguably its strong suit. The brushed metal lines running along the body of the AX35 exude a luxurious, robust quality to the product. In the right light, the AX35 looks positively beautiful. At the very least, it is a handsome earphone that is just a little confused with which typeface to use.
While I didn't have the AX60 on hand to compare, it seemed that the finesse of build was slightly lesser with the AX35 --- understandable considering the large price difference --- but practical differences are minor.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the multi-colored (red and green) cable strands and would have rather Astrotec used opaque black sleeving on the cables of both the AX30 and the AX35, but functionally, they do work well --- I just wished Astrotec gave more regard to aesthetic design principles. I must once again mention that Astrotec can't make up its mind regarding which typeface to use. The aluminum tin uses the space-age font that is used in the AX60 as well, but the body of the AX35 reverts to the old wide-faced Helvetica style logo, while the Y-splitter labels the model number with a narrow-faced Helvetica style typeface. Design and style inconsistencies seem to be universal problems amongst Chinese companies.
In the same vein, as with the AX60, the silver anodize of the 1/8" inch plug and splitter still differs from that of the housing backplates, but I care less about these inconsistencies in a budget-level product. The fact that the AX35's build quality comes nigh close to that of Astrotec's flagship product is a positive sign.
As with the AX60, the housings will be hit or miss with respect to fit and comfort. While the AX35 will undoubtedly accommodate a greater variety of ears because it forgoes the awkward, squarish over-ear cuff of the AX60 for a more traditional barrel design, the sheer depth of the piston-like housings may cause some fit issues with certain segments of the population.
I, however, did not find the fit troublesome, and for the most part the majority of people will not find the AX35 a challenging fit.
In my own case, my smallish ears --- usually a fit liability --- may actually be a benefit because the weighty housings have more structural support within the concha. Conversely, people with larger ears and greater diameter ear canals may actually find the hefty torque weight to be a little overbearing over time.
Interestingly, the cables are an irrefutable improvement over the ones on the AX60. They're softer, more pliable, less memory-prone, and less microphonic, but retains the same tangle-free predilection. These cables are therefore an incremental, but significant step-up over the cables on the AX60, and I would assume that the same improvements are being applied to the latest batches of the AX60, as well as other models in the Astrotec product portfolio. New age, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) are coming into their own for cable sleeving, and they're definitely primed to replace traditional modalities of PVC, PTFE, and PE in the near future. The AX35's cables are a testament to TPE's potential.
These days, I find it a chore to describe a sound signature in discrete terms. Informally, I'll just say that the AX35 is neutral enough to give a balanced presentation to most music, but has enough salt and pepper as not to lose the average consumer. In other words, it's mildly V-shaped. The important part is that this mild V-shape is quite pleasing to the ears.
Perhaps I should go ahead and get the negative out of the way, because it'll later be qualified as inconsequential. Yes, the bass is the weak link in the AX35.
Sometimes, I really don't know what to say about "bass quality" when something is priced at $70. My gut instinct is to say that it's "not good enough", but compared to what? I guess you could say that the $99 HiFiMAN RE-400 possesses superior bass speed and extension, and could loosely be categorized as a direct competitor to the AX35 in sub-$100 price category. Anything else, I either have not yet heard, or costs several orders of magnitude more than the AX35, e.g. Sony MDR-EX1000, Tralucent 1Plus2.
Thus, I really shouldn't complain about the bass on the AX35 --- when taken alone, it performs admirably. Coupled with any source of negligible output Z (personally, I tested it with an amplifier with <0.3 ohm, not at liberty to reveal which model), it delivers with expectorant texture and fullness, while simultaneously not impacting the skull with the consistency of a 2 x 4. The bass response is, well, responsive. It's not really a neutral response, but it hits a nice happy medium. Most people would find the bass response quite pleasing. As always, bassheads don't apply --- they're never satisfied.
Take, for example, a K-pop electro/hip-hop track that includes a good bass mix, Taeyang's (of BIGBANG fame) Ringa Linga:
The bass mixed into this track is actually fairly subtle, but ever present. It exists as a gentle rumble, rather than a punchy beat sign. What does the AX35 do with the bass? Well, it lifts it to a level that would be satisfying for a good two out of three listeners (the remaining third listener would either complain that there's not enough, or too much bass), without obfuscating details of the midrange. I would harbor to say that this type of bass response would give listeners a entry taste to a "hi-fi" sound --- measured bass, with good detail levels.
Taken in concert with the midrange, however, and my opinion drops. Strictly speaking, the lower midrange, especially in the 300-400 Hz "mud" area, is a jumbled mis-timed syncopation of the two drivers, resulting in a "fuzziness" for vocal fundamentals. The best way to explain the bass is that it's a little slow on the attack phase. Take an impulse response measurement of the AX35, and you'll likely find that the impulse is not the clean step-like ideal that many hi-fi designers strive for. In practical terms, I find that it's hard to keep an accurate metronomic count of the beat with the AX35 --- only snare hits (whose signature sonic energy exists mostly in the upper midrange) seem to come down at precisely the right moment. In audiophile speak, "PRaT" feels a little off.
It's conceivable that Astrotec specifically tunes its dynamic drivers this way, but my personal philosophy is that if you're designing a hybrid system, ADSR traits should be well-matched between drivers, especially if the dynamic driver is seated behind the BA driver (thus introducing inherent time alignment issues). Thus, if the balanced armature driver possesses quick attack and decay, then the dynamic driver should be so as well, as not to emphasize any time domain incoherencies. It should be noted that even the $1200 AKG K3003 possesses the same issue, so coherence is a problem across all hybrid designs, but I feel that it's especially easy to hear on the Astrotec models.
Thankfully, the issue is much less pronounced with the AX35 as compared to the AX60. Whereas the AX60 introduced a noticeable time delay that was further made apparent with its strong mid-bass response, the AX35 is fairly mild in its bass response, and thus there's less intermingling of mis-timed response between the dynamic driver and the BA driver.
It's not all bad news, though. A palpable time delay in the lowest bass registers is absolutely fine, as it is able to somewhat simulate the characteristics of speakers in a room with omnidirectional bass fanning out and bouncing off the walls. The big issue is where the group delay is introduced. Under 60 Hz is usually the "ideal", but perhaps the low pass design of the AX35 hasn't been cut low enough to be perfect. Add a resistor in series, however, and it seems like the problem becomes mitigated, as the balanced armature's lower frequency response is dropped, as well as the dynamic driver's, minimizing driver overlap between frequencies. The downside to using a resistor in series, however, is that the dynamic driver becomes underdamped, resulting in poorer texture and impact.
Realistically, however, I don't know if my technical grievances truly apply to a budget earphone. The AX35 sounds relatively clean and controlled, and doesn't overdo it with the bass, something that too many budget-minded models are guilty of. I also wonder if that many people would actually notice the time coherence issue. While I manage to notice, both in the AX60 and in the AX35, the effect is somewhat subtle in the AX35. In real world listening, I don't really have a problem with the AX35. If you're a stickler for absolute technical performance, then avoid the AX35, but if you're not, then I highly doubt you'd have a problem with it.
If you've noticed that I sound wishy-washy about this issue, it's that I really don't know how to think. Should I apply strict standards of acoustic performance even to budget-minded IEMs? If so, too many IEMs would fail miserably. Then, should I grade on a curve? If so, then the AX35 acquits itself nicely, and it finds itself near the top of the heap when it comes to the bass.
As mentioned previously, the time coherence issue prevents the AX35 from being ideally transparent, but timing issues aside, the midrange is actually quite pleasing.
Warmth and fullness are conveyed well, measured for a happy medium. Imaging is one of the better aspects of the AX35, as the Knowles ED balanced armature driver that drives the mids and highs is highly accurate and able to convey good transient response. The AX35 therefore manages to be one of the more detailed and transparent earphones in this price range.
Treble presence is mostly neutral, with some canal-related resonances that may end up bother a small portion of the population, but should not be an issue for most. Extension seems to do decently well.
With a 64 ohm serial resistance adapter, the AX35 improves further in imaging and treble accuracy. As mentioned before, the lower midrange drops out a bit with added resistance, so vocals lose a bit of body, but overall, the sound improves for the better.
Sensitivity, Source Pairing & "Synergy"
At 8 ohms (at 1 kHz), the AX35 has likely had its drivers hooked up in parallel, which drops its total DC resistance. The AX35, therefore, is a very sensitive earphone. I barely have to turn up the volume. However, with a serial resistance adapter, its sensitivity drops significantly.
So what should the AX35 be paired with? Should a serial resistance adapter be added to the chain? It depends on what you want out of the sound of the AX35. Do you want more midrange body and solid impact to your AX35? Then look for a warm source with low output impedance, e.g. FiiO X3. Do you want less bass impact, more clarity, and a greater sense of imaging? Try adding some in-line resistance.
The AX35 seems to be polarity aligned, so adding in-line resistance will electrically underdamp both the BA driver and the dynamic driver. As mentioned in previous sections, this leads to a linear suppression of bass driver's whole response, as well as linear suppression of the lower half of the BA driver's response, resulting in a cleaner, leaner, more transparent lower midrange, at the expense of some bass texture.
After some trial and error, I arrived at a portable setup that consisted of an amplifier with 10 ohms of output impedance (Firestone Audio Fireye HD, which is based around the TPA6120A2), an in-line resistance adapter with 64 ohms of series resistance, from a Sony NWZ-F886. This setup really helps normalize the response of the AX35 into something that is acceptably neutral while simultaneously minimizing the time coherence issue between the two drivers.
However, this setup is not for everyone. It really depends on what you want out of the earphone.
Conclusion In many ways, I find the Astrotec AX35 to be a very good product. It's very well-built --- well beyond most peoples' expectations for a $70 earphone. It has a balanced sound signature that doesn't go overboard in any one aspect --- erring on the side of neutral, allowing it to be versatile across multiple music genres. Its ergonomics are reasonable without sacrificing aesthetics.
It's not perfect, however.
Like most other Chinese companies, Astrotec has yet to figure out the significance of a consistent corporate identity across product lines. Space-age typeface here, Helvetica there, Arial elsewhere, and Proxima Nova on the box do not instill in people, especially casual customers new to Chinese products, any kind of consumer confidence.
Perhaps more importantly, there are inherent technical difficulties to overcome with a hybrid dynamic/BA design that require precise time-alignment and decay phase coherence. While it's arguable that the average listener would care, the head-fi community nevertheless houses a subset of very picky listeners that may very well find some aspects of the hybrid sound "off". The AX35 will not allay those peoples' concerns. Astrotec seems to be banking on the market appeal of the hybrid driver paradigm and hoping technical concerns go by the wayside.
Yet, while It's important for potential customers of the AX35 to recognize its limitations, it is, after all, a ~$70 earphone and Astrotec has surely had to make budget-based concessions on both dynamic driver development and the overall developmental cycle. When these factors are taken into consideration, the AX35 should be seen as a great accomplishment for Astrotec given its target price envelope.
Therefore, I believe that Astrotec has delivered a product that is well-worth its asking price, and I hope they continue to release products that bring a lot of value to the consumer.
Pros - Quality sound, excellent build, hybrid design, great price
Cons - reduction in upper midrange clarity, needs a better L/R indicator
When it comes to headphones, I'm often in pursuit of the best sound or the best value. With in-ear headphones, typically the choice is either a dynamic driver (bigger size, warmer sound, harder to cover the whole dynamic range, cheaper) or balanced armature driver (smaller size, brighter sound, allowing multiple drivers in the same headphone housing, more expensive). This pretty much defines the trade off between better sound control and better value. Lately, there has been a new trend with in-ear headphones, a hybrid design using a single dynamic driver tuned for low frequencies and a single or multiple BA drivers for mids and highs. Today I'm going to take a look into one of these unique hybrid in-ear headphones manufactured by Astrotec with a single dynamic and a single BA driver. Here is what I found.
My review unit came directly from Astrotec, and I assume all the included accessories is exactly how it's being sold new from retailers. I always start with a look at the packaging, and these arrived in a small compact box with English/Chinese text, including a note about legal disclaimers and a list of specifications including a taped-over correction for headphone impedance which is listed as 12 ohm (in original on-line listing it was 8 ohm). After opening the box, you are greeted with AX35 which has a very professional (audiophile quality) solid metal body polished look with a multi-color twisted cable inside of the clear silicone soft shielding (flexible and relativity tangle free) with a metal y-splitter followed by a metal sliding cable cinch. 3.5mm connector is gold plated with a same metal body, very slim so it can be used with any smartphone in a case even with a smallest headphone opening. Looking further in the box, you find a round tin can storage box, very different from typical draw-string bags or hard shell cases with a zipper. This really makes a statement of being unique, although I would recommend using a regular hard shell case down the road because you don't want metal earpieces to be banging against metal walls of this storage can, but it does make a great storage for accessories. And speaking of accessories, included are a total of 3 pairs of S/M/L silicon eartips (a better quality than a typical generic stuff), a pair of medium foam tips with a resemblance to Comply, and a pair of soft silicone earhoops to assist you in wearing headphones with a wire over your ear.
Beside a solid build, headphone body has a unique shape with elongated nozzle design to use different eartips and allowing a deeper insertion in your ear. I personally use the biggest eartip size with all of my in-ear headphones, and due to a soft nature of the included tips, for my testing I was using hybrid tips (very appropriate for hybrid headphones ) I borrowed from my v-moda faders. Looking closer at the design, you will find an opening pinhole port on the back (typically to widen the soundstage) and the opening pinhole port at the base of the nozzle (typically for bass control). The strain relief is minimal and should work, though I really wish they would color code it like in E10 with red on the Right side. Unfortunately, the only way to distinguish the R/L is by looking up a small white letter marking on the body of the headphones next to strain relief - if that is a paint and if it will wear off after a while, there is no other way to separate left and right. I hope this is taken into consideration with any future revisions.
Now, we come to the most exciting part - the sound test. Knowing a typical sound characteristics of dynamic driver and single and multi driver BA headphones I reviewed in the past, I was very curious to find out how AX35 is going to sound. From the spec listing of 12Hz-23kHz frequency response (in comparison to a typical 20-20k), I was already expecting a greater bass and some extension in highs. My sound analysis was done driving AX35 from X5 DAP, Galaxy Note 2 (directly and connected to E18 DAC), as well as my laptop using variety of FLAC and 320kbps mp3s. In general I found the sound to be consistent, and these are easy to drive from any source. So how would I describe it? I would definitely file it under fun v-shaped sound signature with an enhanced bass, slightly recessed mids, overall sound being warm and detailed, and also a wide dip somewhere around 5k-6k (guessing based on reduction of vocal clarity and some Innerfidely charts of similar sounding headphones). The bass in AX35 is truly amazing thanks to the dedicated tuning of 10mm dynamic driver. With other single dynamic driver in-ear headphones, it seems that you have to "stretch" your sound tuning across the entire dynamic range. Here the driver tuning is isolated, and the bass goes deep down to sub-bass textured layer with a fast punching mid-bass, very full and detailed without feeling bloated. Treble has plenty of details as well, and has a pleasant sparkle without high frequency fatigue, definitely appreciated for an extended listening period.
Ok, so what about mids (intentionally leaving it to describe last)? They are detailed, no question about it, and also they do feel slightly recessed which could be also as part of a perception next to the enhanced bass quantity. I have a number of BA in-ears, and quite familiar with a bright sound signature of these, especially when it comes to upper mids and vocals. With AX35, it seems to have an attenuation down in a region of frequencies somewhere around 5k-6k which is easy to hear with vocals due to a slight loss in clarity. Don't get me wrong, vocals are present and detailed and have a very smooth warm signature, but clarity is not well defined. I put over 20hr of burn-in, hoping it will change, but it was still the same. As a matter of fact, I just read Joker's (THL) first impression of AX35, and he also mentioned a sound being v-shaped and being slightly veiled in midrange. I don't want people to take it in a negative way, since these are great v-shaped headphones with a fun signature, and anybody who's listening to EDM, pop/rock, and rap/hip-hop will absolutely love it!!! But those who are into classical or jazz or just like more emphasis on vocal details - these will not be for you. Furthermore, I also want to add these have an amazing soundstage, way beyond a lot of other in-ear headphones in this price category or anything even double the price. Also, with a right selection of eartips, you will get a decent passive noise isolation. In addition, I was very pleased there was hardly any microphonics effect with wires worn down or over the ears.
Overall, though I probably spend a little too much time focusing on sound shortcoming - these are probably among some of the best v-shaped fun headphones I heard in a long time!!! As a matter of fact, during my sound test in addition to switching between other in-ear dynamic and BA pairs, I was also comparing them to my V-Moda M-100 and I found AX35 bass presentation to be much better, as well as better definition of midrange. Astrotec went for a specific sound signature, trying to accomplish it with a single dynamic driver and a single BA driver - and they nailed it with flying colors!!! What makes it truly amazing, these sell for about $75 which is a fantastic value!!! Considering a solid build and top quality of materials, excellent sound presentation with an amazing bass quality/quantity while not necessary being a basshead headphones, and a very affordable price for a hybrid design without cutting any corners (headphones specific, accessories aside) - these make a great addition to anybody headphone collection, no matter if you are a casual listener or a seasoned audiophile!
Here are the detailed pictures of AX35.
Pros - Sounds Wonderful Overall, Nice Finish
Cons - Isolation, Packaging & Accessories
Astrotec has been mostly into budget IEMs until recently, when they introduced their AX60, AX7 and now their AX30/35. The version I have here today is the AX35. I’m not sure of the prices yet, but from what I hear, the AX30 will be around $65 while the AX35 will be $80 (USD). The AX30 is supposed to be the bassier model of the two while the AX35 was tuned to be more neutral. Me generally preferring a more neutral presentation, picked the AX35 over the AX30.
Hybrid IEMs really are the FOTM here on Head-Fi, with the DN-1000, AX60, H-200, 1plus2 etc. However, these are all 1 dynamic driver + 2 BA IEMs; the AX35 has one BA driver as opposed to two. This makes it more or less a competitor with the DN-900, H-100 and the MA750 (1 dynamic driver) BUT all of those are more expensive than the AX35. However, upon the first listen I could tell that Astrotec had created something special here which could not only compete, but maybe even better more expensive IEMs.
To be honest, last time I listened to the AX60, I was rather disappointed with it and found that the DN-1000 was actually superior at a cheaper price. Therefore, I was rather uncertain as to what to expect from Astrotec’s new IEMs. Luckily, I actually really like the AX35’s tuning unlike the AX60s. Edit: I just got en email saying that mine were a review sample and that the final model will have all the tips. There are available at the Noisy Motel right now.
**Disclaimer** I got these at a discounted price in return for an unbiased review.
Unboxing & Accessories
The box wasn’t much at all, rather disappointing actually. However, I suspect this was to cut down on the cost price. Upon opening the box you will find a manual, and then the IEMs greet you. Taking that layer off, there is a round rugged metal case and inside it, the accessories. Overall, it isn’t bad, but it doesn’t make it feel like a high quality product – kind of like the AX7’s box actually.
It doesn’t come with an array of accessories like the Dunu and RHA offerings. Instead, it comes with a case, 3 sets of silicone tips, 1 foam tip and ear hooks. What was weird was it came with just 1 small silicone tip and 1 foam tip (no, I didn’t lose it). The silicone tips are the same ones that come with the AX60 and I really like them. The foams are just regular foams, not sure if they are comply because I don’t use foam tips. The ear hooks are a nice touch and made out of rubber. They are very flexible, but you can’t really adjust them to fit your ear. Not a big issue as I don’t think many people use them anyway.
Design & Isolation
The design of the housing really reminds me of the Dunu DN-1000 and 900. You can tell that the finish is of very high quality. The IEM housing is constructed from metal and everything is very smooth; the build is easily on par with the DN-900 and MA750, but not quite up to the DN-1000 level. It has 2 vents, one on the face and the other on the top of the IEM nozzle. One thing I wished Astrotec had done is put a logo on the face – it would have made them look much more professional IMO, but no big deal.
The cable is very nice – I believe it’s the same one that the AX60 uses. It is a bit springy though, which I don’t really like. It is very tough and feels like it can withstand quite a bit of punishment though. Another thing to mention is I’m not a fan of the colour; it looks somewhat pink from a distance (it’s actually red, orange and green). I would have preferred something more low profile like black or grey. The plug and y-split all seem very nicely crafted, though the AX35 on the y-split is facing the wrong direction.
The isolation is rather bad, worse than the DN-900, MA750 and even the 1plus2! It is along the lines of an EX1000 (horrible). I took them on a bus once and they were worse than my $20 IEMs. These are strictly for home listening only.
I tested these on quite a few sources and what I am quite surprised about is that they actually scale up to better sources quite well. On the Clip+ made these a little too warm, but I really liked them with my Nano.
Charles, the person who sent these to me told me that these responded quite well to amping and they certainly do. On the DX50 which has a decent on board amp, the sound opened up quite a bit. Adding on a Palaios made the sound a little better and the mids came out a little. On the Leckerton UHA760 the soundstage increased a bit more and that’s about it. However, I highly doubt people will be using a $700 rig with an $80 IEM lol. Anyway, I did the review with the UHA760 and DX50 with SPC cable.
Ok, so I’ve listened to the AX35 for a while now and I am still quite surprised as to how good these sound. The sound quality is absolutely stunning for its $80 price tag, a good bit under $100. These hands down beat the BA-100 and are right up there with the MA750 and DN-900, both of which cost one and a half times the AX35’s price. So let’s get on with the review.
For me this is the best part of the AX35 here. I was told that the bass on these would be neutral and no… it’s not. For me at least the AX35s bass is definitely not neutral at all; rather it is quite emphasized, but certainly not to the levels of the Dunu DN-1000. I kinda reminds me of the MA750’s bass except it is much faster and it does not have as much sub-bass. Anyway, I am usually a guy who enjoys a neutral sound sig more, but sometimes I just love a heavy, detailed bass which is exactly what the AX35 provides. The detail of the bass is very good, I would say even better than the MA750 and it stays very fast, no bloat whatsoever. This actually makes the DN-900 feel a little bit slow. Overall the bass is just about on par with something like the MA750. Overall, the bass is simply amazing for just $80. Seriously, this is the best bass I’ve heard in anything within twice of the AX35’s price.
Ah, the midrange… Few IEMs seem to get it right for me over here. I must admit though, I am extremely picky with the midrange tonality that I like. One that that I just can’t stand is veiled vocals and an overly recessed midrange. Well, the question you might be asking me is whether I think the AX35 is just right. I’m happy to say that yes, it definitely gets it right for me. The midrange is very neutral and maybe even a little on the colder side of things. These are not nearly as warm as the MA750 and these never gave me an impression of a midrange veil. The mids are recessed as well, but not so much it become annoying. Vocals sound pretty damn good on the AX35, being detailed yet not fatiguing and I really love playing Maroon 5 on these. It just sound so natural sounding. The mids’ tonality are exactly as I like it and man, do I love these.
I think that the treble is rather neutral but it is a bit emphasized and is definitely on the bright side of things that I have heard. Personally, I prefer a brighter presentation and I absolutely love the AX35’s treble response. It is just around what I like and honestly, it is better than the MA750 and marginally, the DN-900. The reason why I like BA’s for treble is very evident here. It is very detailed and clear. I think that quantity wise, it is somewhere near my UM Miracle and DN-1000. So far I have not experienced sibilance even at higher volumes with any tracks I have tested this with. The DN-900 uses the identical BA driver but it is tuned differently and I feel like the AX35 has better detailing and overall I just feel like the AX35’s treble is more for me. Anyway, the treble on these is simply like nothing I have heard in the sub $100 range.
As some may know, I have always preferred the way that hybrids and dynamics present music as opposed to BA IEMs. Part of this is because of the more expansive soundstage. With the AX35 I really like the front row seat presentation. At times the music can sound intimate but at other times it is a little further away. Also, I didn’t feel like the presentation was in your head at all.
I know accuracy is perceived differently for different people. For example, a lot of people use the ER4S as a golden standard of accuracy while other people feel differently. I think the AX35 leans to the funner side of things and has more of a slight V sound signature rather than being neutral. However, it does sound very natural and has a realistic timbre to it. Usually I feel like neutral IEMs just don’t feel quite right with the drum beats so I prefer a somewhat boosted low end and the AX35 is just that. Also for instrumental music these do well as well.
I must admit, I am a little bit of a detail freak and I have never really been impressed at the $100 range other than the R50. However, I am truly blown away at how detailed these $80 gems are. I mean seriously, these are like nothing I have ever heard under $100. Yes, it does lose out slightly to the R50 and all other TWFKs for that matter, but it is priced a good $40 lower than the R50, is not as harsh and has a very solid bottom end unlike the TWFKs. Obviously it is not as detailed as the DN-1000, but nobody really should expect it to since it costs nearly 3 times as much. I don’t see anyone being disappointed here.
Vocal separation is rather impressive and I feel like it is on par with the MA750. Another IEM it is close to is the B2/R50/AX7. Despite them using 2 BA drivers to handle the entire spectrum as opposed to the AX35 having 1 dynamic driver for bass and 1 BA driver for the midrange and treble I don’t feel like the TWFKs have an advantage here.
Instrument separation is even better than the vocal separation and sometimes I feel like it even exceeds the MA750. This is quite a feat considering I thought very highly of the MA750’s separation.
Soundstage & Imaging
The soundstage is large – bigger than the DN-900 anyway. I feel like it is somewhere around the level of the MA750 actually. It is wide, but not as much as something like the DN-1000. It is quite tall and deep too.
Imaging is definitely one of its strong points as well. This is where it clearly beats the MA750 and the DN-900. It doesn’t have the pin point imaging that more expensive models do, but it is extremely impressive.
I’m going to briefly compare these to a few IEMs that are more or less in its price range.
Astrotec AX35 vs Hisound BA-100
Personally I like the way that the AX35 looks more and the Astrotec is also built better. The bass on the BA-100 is smaller and very nicely textured. However, the AX35’s bass is simply harder hitting and more detailed. It does lose out on speed though. I have to give the bass to the AX35 but not by much. The midrange is pretty similar on both models. They are both somewhat on the cool side. The BA-100 has a very slight artificial tone to it and it is very similar in clarity. This goes to the AX35 as well. The treble on the BA-100 is rolled off while the AX35’s is more prominent. Being a little bit of a treblehead my vote of course goes to the AX35. The AX35 has better separation, imaging and is a little more detailed as well. Now, the BA-100 does looks more low profile and isolates better, but I find that the AX35 does beat it by quite a long way. At its original price of $50 I would still highly recommend it, but at its current $100 price tag it is much harder.
Astrotec AX35 vs Shure SE215
Let’s start off with saying I love the Shure’s design. It isolates very well, it comfortable and has a detachable cable. However, I find the sound of the Shure rather mediocre at best. The bass is bloated, midrange warm and somewhat veiled and treble rolled off. Soundstage and separation wasn’t great and it lacked detail as well. Sorry, I just don’t see a fair comparison here. The Shure really sucks next to the AX35. I wouldn’t get it unless you can get it for cheap ($50-70) used or need the isolation (even then I’d probably go for some lower end Etymotics). For $100 these really disappointed me.
Astrotec AX35 vs Dunu DN-900
The Dunu DN-900 was a great IEM and it still it, but it sound a little shaky next to the AX35. The Dunu comes with a giant yellow case which I don’t like and an array of accessories. In that area they are better than the AX35 no doubt. When it comes to bass, I find both very impressive. They have similar way of presenting bass but the DN-900 has more and hits harder. However, the AX35 is faster and both are equally detailed. This is a draw. I find the midrange on the DN-900 a bit forward and very clear. It is even more textured than the AX35 so I have to give the midrange to the DN-900. The treble is a bit rolled off on the DN-900 and the AX35 is more treble friendly. Personally I prefer the AX35’s treble. The AX35 is more detailed, has better imaging and a bigger soundstage. I know I said that I thought the MA750 had better vocal separation but later I changed my mind and thought the DN-900 is just slightly superior. It beats the Astrotec in this aspect but the AX35 beats it in instrument separation. Here, I don’t feel like there is a winner – just two different sound sigs. If I had to pick one it would probably be the AX35.
Astrotec AX35 vs RHA MA750
The RHA MA750’s packaging really was rather impressive and so was the IEM. It looked stunning, better than the AX35 if you ask me. The bass is a lot fasted on the AX35 buit I did love the sub bass rumble on the MA750. The detail was ever so slightly better on the AX35 though. I have to call this a draw. The MA750’s midrange has a veil and I hate it. Luckily, this isn’t too bad but I liked the AX35’s mids much more. The MA750 is a dark IEM and it takes some getting used to. The treble is rolled off even more than the SE215 and favouring a brighter sound, I have to give this to the AX35. Soundstage and imaging is about even on these 2, but I think the MA750 may be a bit better. This is quite a feat for such a low priced IEM really. Vocal and instrumental separation is better on the AX35 but they are not too far apart. Both of them are exceptional really and it does come down to what sound signature you prefer and for me, the AX35 is the winner here.
So you may be thinking: wait, an $80 IEM can even beat the ones that cost significantly more (at this price point $40-$50 is a large factor)? And my answer would be yes, in this case definitely. I absolutely love my AX35 and they aren’t going anywhere for a while. They are slightly V/U shaped while still being neutral. This earns my highest recommendation.