Background: When I received my ASG’s, the only headphones I had in my possession were the Audeo PFE 232. I had had the 232’s for about two months, and had grown used to the neutral sound signature by the time my ASG-2’s arrived. As with all of my reviews, I let my headphones burn in naturally. I don’t use pink noise or white noise – I just use my headphones and after about a hundred hours (five-six weeks) have elapsed, I know the headphones have settled into a more-or-less permanent state.
Source: Macbook Pro / iPhone 5 (no DAC’s) Initial Notes and First Impressions:
Bass. Bass. Bass. Surprisingly low and impactful bass. I guess I had forgotten what bass had felt like – the PFE’s definitely don’t reach as low as these headphones. I’m not a basshead, and at first the ASG-2’s felt very overwhelming. I’ve since adjusted the bass dial to its smallest setting.
At its lowest setting, the lower-mids die down a bit and trebles shine. The Cello and the Bass feel alive in The Cello Song, by the Piano Guys (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FblHCHOLAcQ&feature=kp) Some have described the ASG-2’s as “mid-colored.” I don’t know whether I necessarily agree with this characterization, but it’s certainly clear that the IEM’s are mid-centric.
At least right now, I feel like the IEM is a little dark. I hope that the mids clear up a little and the treble shines through a little better. We’ll see what a hundred hours of burn-in do to the sound signature.
Isolation: 10/10 – not much to say here, other than that isolation on the ASG-2’s is very good. I’m currently using comply tips.
Build quality: 9/10 – These feel really solid. The cables fit comfortably into the earbuds, and the headphones themselves feel extremely well engineered. The earphones themselves don’t feel as well designed as my Tzar 90’s, but I’m partial to wooden creations.
Fit and Comfort: 7/10 – Some people love the fit of the ASG-2’s. I don’t. The headphones are not distinctly uncomfortable. But in general, I’ve never forgotten about them while plugged in. I do feel the presence of the headphones in my ears – they don’t sit completely flush to the skin, so moving my head around rattles the headphones just a little bit. It’s nothing major, but rather something I notice every once in a while. That said, I’ve worn the ASG-2’s for several hours at a time without any issue – so they do rest fairly comfortable within my ear canals.
Might be placebo, might be that I’m hearing what I want to hear, but after about a few weeks of listening ASG-2’s have in large part filled in the areas I was unhappy with. We’ll go through the Lows, Mids, and Highs separately, and do some comparisons to the Tzar 90 and the PFE 232’s.
Lows: As expected, the bass evolved to be better controller over burn-in. The (very) slight bloatiness I initially experienced has faded. I might be a little weird, but I enjoy testing the bass control by listening to rap music.
In rap, there’s a fair amount of amorphous, deep-reaching bass in the background of vocals and lyrics. I listened to Headlights (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWKNEJ5QNuU&feature=kp) by Eminem and Nate Ruess (from Fun., who is one of my favorite vocalists). The ASG-2’s did a phenomenal job at controlling the bloaty bass which is characteristic of rap songs. There was still plenty of punch and impact, and the bass did feel fairly well controlled. Nevertheless, on certain notes and verses, the lows reached into the mids and colored some of the vocals.
In general, it seems my observations with Headlights doesn’t apply to the ASG-2’s as a whole. I listened to the lows across all of Fun.’s Some Nights and Aim and Ignite albums, and in general the lows are very controlled. Bass is deep and impactful, particularly in We are Young (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQLGhPHzxjc) and Light a Roman Candle With Me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKoBTEcq8Ck&feature=kp). I was especially impressed with the latter song, which boasts an impressive vocal range accompanied by deep low notes.
I believe it’s a general consensus that lows is something the ASG-2’s do incredibly well. The headphones really come alive with the Cello/Bass and the drums. But at times the bass bleeds into low-toned vocals. This is a sword that cuts both ways -- with very low-centric songs the vocals might be a little obscured by the bass. On the flip side, singers with deep voices really come alive.
Mids/Highs: Vocals and mids sound clear and resonate. They feel sweet, certainly sweeter than the PFE232’s. I wouldn’t necessarily characterize these headphones as mid-colored. They are certainly mid-centric, but I don’t necessarily agree with the statements made regarding the mids bleeding into the treble and the bass.
Typically I like to test Mids by listening to folk-ey music. In this particular case, I used Beirut’s The Rip Tide album to test the integrity of mids.
I really, really enjoyed this part.
In my opinion, the ASG-2’s have mids and highs that carry significant weight. Because the ASG-2’s are a mid-centric, vocals really have presence. Beirut’s Vagabond (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpN2XAg2bQs) and Santa Fe (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN-5XUqe1PQ ) both really come alive. The trumpet shines through like hope. Even accordions sound powerful.
Who still uses the accordion these days?
Next up was Melanie Laurent, otherwise known as Shosanna in Inglorious Bastards. Melanie and Damien Rice authored a few songs together on Laurent’s En t’attendant. These guys sound great together, and they sound phenomenal on the ASG-2’s. Laurent’s voice sounds sweet, particularly against Damien Rice’s deeper voice. There’s quite a bit going on towards the end of their song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBRvDxgkBCM). At the very, very end of the song you can feel the extent of the ASG-2’s soundstage. The violin moves around the audio screen, and eventually fades off.
In general, I’m very much a mids-centric guy; I look for sweet, substantive vocals and instruments, which is something the ASG-2’s do really well. But even after burn-in, I do feel like the mids aren’t as sweet as they could be. This just might be the bass bleeding into the very bottom end of the mids… In general, though, the ASG-2’s do mostly everything incredibly well, particularly with solo instruments like the trumpet, violin, and piano.
The ASG-2 is Aurisonics' second (official) foray into the world of iems. The guys over at Aurisonics cater primarily to the music professional crowd, and their products are generally tuned for stage use. Their original ASG-1 was a perfect example of this, with its ability to present vocals in a way that made it seem as if the notes were rolling off your own tongue. The ASG-1's various revisions were good in their own right, but they always seemed to lack something...treble. As I noted in my review, the treble was very refined and timbre was spot on, but there was hardly any of it there. I, along with a few other owners, took to EQ to raise the levels. With that done, the ASG-1.2 quickly became my favorite IEM. You can read more in-depth here:
Not long after the release of the ASG-1, Dale, CEO of Aurisonics, listened to his customer base. He began working on "the prototype". In our emails, we discussed how he was going about getting better treble out of the drivers without skewing the Aurisonics house sound. At one point in the development of the ASG-2, Dale considered using a dual dynamic driver setup to achieve the desired sound...the original 15mm full range dynamic, plus a smaller 7mm "tweeter" that compliments the highs. See, Dale had an aversion to balanced armature drivers of any sort. In his mind, they all lacked the realism that dynamics could present. After months of tweaking, he finally stumbled upon a balanced armature that he fell in love with. It definitely wasn't your average TWFK, but a different beast altogether. Thus, the final design of the AS-2 series began to take shape.
The ASG-2 employs a newly designed 15mm full range dynamic driver, along with Dale's customized dual balanced armatures acting as treble tweeters to complement the dynamic driver. One thing of note here is that this design avoids crossovers, removing unnecessary complications. These BAs are tuned in a way that organically blends with the sound. They simply never sound out of place, and avoid the usual timbre issues that some BAs can exhibit.
The ASG-2 ships in a fantastic otterbox case, along with several pairs of tips, a warranty card, the bass port adjustment tool (if you have the bass port edition), and a wax remover.
I have to compliment Aurisonics on their tip selection. The material is of very good quality, and I doubt anyone will have trouble finding a pair that will seal. Another thing to note is that the otterbox cases no longer require divine intervention to open. I had to go on a 12 week weight lifting regimen in order to build up the strength to open and close the ASG-1 box without issue.
One MAJOR thing that should be mentioned is the slight revision in the shell of the iem that can make a work of a difference. Owners of the ASG-1 will remember this little bump...
That little thing was the bane of small ears everywhere. Well, I'm happy to announce that this is almost completely gone. The ASG-2 (and ASG-1.3) shells now fit like a glove for most ears, without that painful extrusion. Build Quality is also great. There are few iems that feel more solid than the ASG-2. I imagine this set lasting or years to come.
Now, on to the....
Rises in the East - Kayla scintilla
Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap
Circle of Life - The Lion King
Toxicity - System of a Down
Flapper Girl - The Lumineers
Better Off Alone - Alice Deejay
Holland Road - Mumford and Sons
Oh Marcello - Regina Spektor
Sources: Clip+, iPhone 4, FPE desktop amp, and Sabre DAC.
The ASG-2 is (almost) exactly what I wanted from a ASG-1 upgrade. The major upgrade comes where it was needed most...the treble. Whereas the ASG-1.2 was overly dark, the ASG-2 improves on this significantly by simply boosting the treble levels to audible levels. As simple as this sounds, the improvement this brings has to be heard to be believed. The entire sound signature gets a facelift. Everything is more dynamic, mids are more life-like, and the bass becomes (even) more textured. Make no mistake though, this is still the Aurisonics house sound. The midrange is the star of the show here, and it's a damn good one too...more on that later. Luckily, Aurisonics didn't go overboard with the treble. While it is very present and rich, it's never glaring unless in an especially harsh recording. It is always there, but never obtrusive, and is the perfect compliment to the mids and bass.
Another significant difference from the ASG-1 is the bass emphasis. Whereas the ASG-1.2 was a sub-bass monster, the ASG-2 leans more toward mid-bass impact. With the bass port closed the low end is tight, very impactful, and exquisitely textured. It lends warmth to the sound without ever encroaching on the mids. However, the bass can take on a life of its own as you open the bass port. It can range from "In da club", all the way to "SOMEONE PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP THAT MADMAN!!" levels of impact and bloom. I personally keep the port closed so as to avoid waking that beast from its slumber. The mid-bass is almost too much for me, even with the port closed. I like bass, but I prefer it to remain below 60 hz as much as possible. It will definitely be too much for some.
The midrange is simply where it's at. It's forward, articulate, refined, and oh so resolving. It's the second best mid-range I've heard, snapping on the heels of the Sennheiser IE800, an iem twice the (base) ASG-2's price. It's actually more dynamic than the IE800, but lacks that air of effortlessness that the IE800's midrange gives off. However, I don't think performers will be looking for effortlessness when they're belting their lungs out on stage. One thing that amazes me about the mids is how they never seem to be obstructed, no matter how much the bass snarls. Vocals always dance above the mix. Vocal separation here is just amazing. I used Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek to test this. She sings the track in several different harmonies, which are then blended together. I could zero in on any particular harmony I wanted with the ASG-2, and the vocal timbre was spot-on. Same goes for Regina Spektor's voice.
Soundstage size is very much above average, and is only prevented from being "massive" by the forward vocals and upper bass. The imaging is simply spectacular though, and sound cues can be located anywhere in the sound field. Instrument separation is good throughout the range, but kicks into high gear in the midrange. It's not a hyper-realistic kind of sound, but there's no muddying of instruments here.
Quick story, I went to a seafood bar in my town on Friday after picking up the ASG-2. There were some live performers there, so I let the lead vocalist (coming from UE11 Pros) borrow my pair for a set or two. Just as the band struck up the first song, he stumbled over the first few words in the song with the most priceless look on his face. When he finally returned the ASG-2, he begged me for Aurisoncs' phone number. I just thought that was a testament to the sound that Dale has created.
Altogether, the ASG-2 is oh so nearly my ideal signature. I only wish the bass energy could be moved further down into the sub-bass. Not that it negatively affects the sound, but the impact is a bit more than my ideal. The impact is fine at lower volumes, but can be slightly problematic at higher volumes. Then again, this is coming from someone who prefers the GR07 MKII over the GR07 Bass Edition. As a sort of post script, I should also mention how great the ASG-2 is with classical music genres. Operas, Concertos, and Chamber Music all sound sublime. I've been getting more into classical the deeper I go in my didactic studies, and I'm finding the ASG-2 to be the perfect companion.