At the time this review was written, the AAW Nebula One was listed for sale on Musicteck’s web store. Here is a link to their listing of the product:
Writing comprehensive reviews has allowed me to experience earphones from several different companies for the first time. Hearing an earphone from a manufacturer is usually a “taste” of what they have to offer.
I try to keep my mind (and ears) open to what I’m about to hear, and not allow outside opinions and impressions weigh in on how I perceive an earphone. Even with reviews, I intentionally try to avoid reading other people’s coverage of a product. I want my impressions to be my own unique perspective. Often times my impressions will line up with others. Sometimes they won’t, and that’s okay. One of the great things about this hobby is that many people enjoying agreeing to disagree on how we perceive and feel about a product. When this is done it makes for some great conversation, and if handled correctly it leads to a better understanding of both the product and people involved in the conversation.
AAW stands for Advanced Acousticwerks. Here is some information copied and pasted from their website:
“Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW) is a Singapore based electric-acoustic company specialised in in-ear monitoring technology. AAW is recognised by the audiophile and professional community for our exquisite hybrid drive technology and bespoke custom in-ear monitor products, during which course we have successfully attracted a diverse clientele consists of pro-musicians, audio engineers as well as serious audiophiles. We have accumulated vast experience and expertise in sound engineering and human ergonomics by working closely with several otolaryngologists as well as professional musicians.
Now we have also applied our knowledge in developing the best in-ear monitors available today. Investments have been made to build a dedicated production facility for our universal range so that we have absolute control in quality assurance and engineering precision.
We surely hope the AAW products will deliver an unforgettable experience for your listening pleasure and we shall remain committed to develop more exciting audio products for the years to come.”
Taking a look at their website, it appears they have something to offer just about every price point from one hundred dollars and up. There is some unique driver configurations in their earphones, utilizing hybrid technology in their flagship products where most companies go with all armature driver designs.
Today we will take a look and listen to their lowest priced entry level earphone, a single dynamic per channel universal in-ear monitor named Nebula One. This is the first product I will be trying from AAW, coming in at a $199 MSRP (and selling usually around $99 USD). Let’s have a taste of what AAW can offer as an entry level monitor, shall we?
I was given a free sample of the Nebula One in exchange for my honest opinion and review. I am in no way affiliated with Advanced Acousticwerks. I would like to take this time to personally thank Andrew for the opportunity to experience and review the product.
I AM NOT a numbers and graphs audiophile or sound engineer. Personal audio enthusiast? Absolutely! Headphone junkie? Possibly…
There’s something about quality DAPs, DACs, Amplifiers and Earphones that intrigues me. I want to hear any earphone that looks promising, in hopes that I can share my impressions with enthusiasts and help them find the audio product they’re looking for. My Head-Fi profile has a list of audio products ranked from favorite to least favorite. For me, this hobby is more about getting great price to performance ratio from a product, and having a variety of different gear to mix and match. With personal audio gear, we tend to pay a lot of money for minor upgrades. One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that just because a headphone has a higher price tag, it doesn’t mean that it has superior build and sound quality.
I’m always looking for great audio at a great price. I’m after headphones and IEMs that give me the “WOW” factor. I can appreciate different builds and sound signatures as long as they are solidly built, with ergonomics and sound that is pleasing to my ears. It’s my pleasure to share my experiences with audio products and make recommendations based on gear I have owned and used.
NOTE: The Nebula One has practically identical housings and cables as another earphone I will be reviewing, the Nebula two. The only difference in appearance is the the outside of the housing finish. Because of this, the top part of the review will have repeats from the other review. If you have already read the other review, you might want to skip ahead to the sound review portion to save from reading nearly the same information twice.
I received a promotional sample of the Nebula One, which came in a ziplock bag. I assume the retail packaging is different. If not, who cares? To be honest, the packaging is only good for first impressions. The good news is I have all the accessories and earphones to report on. For those of you interested in the retail packaging, here is a picture from the AAW website:
*Proprietary titanium plated microdriver
*Frequency Range: 10Hz-23000Hz
*Sensitivity: 100db SPL @ 1mW
*Input Power: 3mW
*Cable Length: 1.2m
*Android/Apple dual mode inline remote control
1X Nebula One earphone
1X Earphone sleeve: Foam 3 pairs, Ultra-Flex 3 pairs
1X AAW carrying pouch
1X Flight adaptor
1X 1/4 inch adaptor
1X User manual
1X Warranty card
The Nebula One housings are very nicely done. They come in a brushed nickel all metal outer shell, and translucent black plastic inner shell. The shape is that of a stack of dimes with an angled nozzle.
The Nozzle is relatively standard in terms of length and width and has a nice dust screen. The AAW logo is machined into the outer shell and has some nice detail. All in all I find it to be nice looking and nice fitting. The black finish looks very modern and stylish.
Cable, Y-Split, Cable Jack, Strain Reliefs
I am going to be completely honest from the start of this section. The cable is the worst aspect to this earphone, and does the housing design and sound no justice. While it is formidable and works fine, there are traits to it that became pet peeves over the course of my time with them. Please don’t think along the lines that what I’m saying should make it a dealbreaker to anyone considering purchasing these. There are some far worse cables on other earphones in today’s market. Ones that come to mind are the flat noodle style cables from Brainwavz, or the abysmal J-cord of the Sony MH1C. I would take the Nebula Two cable over these two any day of the week.
However, the cable is thin, non replaceable and resembles cables used in much cheaper budget earphone models like KZ. It has a considerable amount of spring and memory. The memory wire is very long and impairs my ability to get a consistent and even seal. Although AAW indicates the cable has nice conductive materials and properties, at the end of the day it’s thin, frail, and has enough spring and memory to say that it’s an issue for me.
With all the negatives out of the way, let’s discuss some positives. Strain reliefs are well done. The cable has a nice ninety degree plug that is slim in profile and pocket friendly. The included microphone and remote is well placed.
Nebula One comes with a three button microphone and remote that works with both Android and Iphone devices. Although functional, I was initially clumsy with the remote. The button layout is different than most models with the play/pause button on the bottom rather than the center. After acclimating to the layout I didn’t have any further issues.
The microphone worked great. When talking with friends and family they reported my voice coming through at a four on a scale from one to five. The microphone did pick up wind noise however. When chatting on the phone voices came through with good clarity.
Ergonomics, Fit and Microphonics, Isolation
I prefer an over the ear fit, so I had no major issues with these earphones. Because of the over-ear design and long memory wire, wearing them down from the ear isn’t really possible. If you prefer wearing your earphones cable down these aren’t for you.
Although I didn’t have a ton of issues wearing them after finding a good sealing tip, the long memory wire was a slight hindrance. The added length of the wire forced me to readjust the fit several times over the course of using them. Although not a big deal, it can be a slight issue.
Nebula One is a mediocre isolator. When music isn’t playing you can easily hear your surroundings. Microphonics are well controlled. Once I was able to a good seal and securing them in place, they were extremely comfortable to wear, which is a big plus.
I did my demo with my usual gear. I used an LG-V10 for smartphone use, and either my Fiio X7 or iBasso DX80 DAP/Bushmaster D14 DAC/Amp for high fidelity portable use. For desktop use, I used my Toshiba Satellite Laptop in combination with a ifi micro iDSD playing at 32/192 kHz. I tested them with several other sources as well. I used Google Music in its highest download quality (320 KBPS), and also streamed FLAC via Tidal streaming service. I also used purchased and downloaded tracks in MP3, FLAC, WAV and DSD. I make sure that any gear I test has sufficient playtime before writing a review.
I used my usual same songs for testing gear:
“Limit to your love” by James Blake (bass speed, punch, response)
“Doin’ it Right” by Daft Punk (sub bass)
“Get lucky” by Daft Punk (bass to midrange transition resolution, male vocals)
“Madness” by Muse (soundstage, separation)
“Some nights” by Fun (soundstage and male vocals)
“The soundmaker” by Rodrigo y Gabriela (texture and imaging)
“Bassically” by Tei Shi (bass to midrange resolution, female vocals)
“Skinny Love” performed by Birdie (female vocals, acoustic playback)
“One” by Ed Sheeran (male vocals, acoustic playback)
“Outlands” from the Tron Legacy Soundtrack (symphonic presentation, imaging)
“Sultans of swing” by Dire Straits (detail, separation, balance)
“And Justic for All” by Metallica (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
“Ten thousand fists” by Disturbed (driver distortion, treble response, rock playback)
Note: Other tracks were used, but the listed songs were primarily used to assess and break down the gear’s response.
Although impedance is not specified, I’m going to guess it sits somewhere between 15 and 30 Ohms. Nebula One will work great with your smartphone or DAP. It manages to avoid background hiss and EMI for the most part.
Nebula One is designed to be a smartphone companion and it’s universal remote will work perfectly with both Android and Apple devices. Using my LG V10, I found a healthy and listening volume at around the halfway point. The same could be said with my Iphone 6 Plus. The Nebula One sounded good with both devices. With a DAP that packs a little more power, lower registers seemed to have a bit more control of the sound (primarily lower frequencies).
Nebula One’s warmth sets up better for leaner sounding sources. Using an already colorful source will add to the already emphasized mid-bass and lower mid-range tuning, making it seem sluggish or veiled. That will depend on a listener’s preference.
Powerful desktop units are overkill. Although the quarter inch adapter can attached and the Nebula One and handle the extra juice, it’s really not what I feel these were intended for. After using these for a while, I find them to be a good “on the go” option for when I want to hear my surroundings when music isn’t playing, and tuning the world out while music is (all while keeping them in my ears). They are great for those who commute, or want a musical a rich fidelic upgrade over most of the stuff you find on store shelves.
Nebula One is a rich and dynamic tuning that doesn’t shy away from mid-bass and lower midrange sounds and still manages to keep a reasonable amount of control while avoiding distortion. Lower mid-range sounds have weight and a forward presence that won’t appeal to those looking for a linear or airy sound. For those who want to emphasize the tones of bass and guitars, this is right up your alley. Nebula One does this while maintaining a decent yet relaxed sense of neighboring frequencies.
The Nebula one is definitely a bass forward earphone that packs more rumble than punch. This is done so without going insanely overboard. Sub bass is solid but not as forward as mid-bass, and slightly less resolving. Sub bass is present and its tone is lacking slightly. Attack and decay at sub-bass levels are a bit on the slow side. This doesn’t destroy the sound, but rather adds a rumble that some can appreciate. Listening to Daft Punk’s “Doin it Right” the bass lines had good depth and rumble but were slightly lingering and monotone.
Midbass is forward and has more of a rumbling effect. As we venture away from sub-bass tones, Mid bass comes forward but also begins to tighten up a little bit in it’s response. Still, the Nebula one does suffer from a bit of mid-bass bleed that drowns out some of the lower mid/mid-range clarity. Although not the most resolving thing I’ve heard, mid-bass tones avoid distortion while packing a slower attack and decay. Although synthesized sub-bass tones may muck up lower registers, genres without a lot of the computer generated bass (like acoustic, rock, band, and symphony orchestra) tend to have more control of the the lower half of its response than modern genres (pop, hip hop, EDM).
The Nebula One mid-range is their biggest strength in my opinion. The overall sense I get is that they are considerably warm with good resolution. It’s a beefy sounding mid-range that is slightly unnatural yet still enjoyable.
Lower midrange is robust and forward. It is tighter and faster in response than mid-bass frequencies. This trend continues into the upper midrange as well (The higher the frequency, the more responsive the sound becomes). Guitars have a nice depth and chug with a nice sense of impact. Although the deeper tones of bass guitars can be a little boomy, higher bass guitar notes have a nice resolve. Male vocals sound weighted and on the thicker side of natural. All in all, the lower mids of the Nebula one have girth that some will appreciate.
The upper midrange is clean and nicely done. Things seem fairly neutral at this frequency and although it is slightly subdued in comparison to its mid-bass.
Treble valleys out at sibilant sounds and picks back up a bit after this. The impression I got was that although there is a decent snap with some tracks, for the most part the Nebula One has a smooth response, a little sparkle, and a bit of roll-off. This tuning will set up well for someone who is very treble sensitive but doesn’t want to lose the treble presence all together at the expense of a fatigue free listening experience.
Soundstage and Imaging
Packing some rumble and a little bit of sparkle, I can give the Nebula an average score. There is a nice sense of depth, but the rumble overshadows the midrange with some songs, preventing me from saying that they create an open or airy presence. There is some nice textured midrange sound when bass isn’t dominating the track. When it is, the overall clarity takes a hit.
TFS Series 3 ($55 USD on Penon Audio)
The Series 3 is a musical signature earphone released by TFZ. They offer a bassier sound and over the ear fit:
Comparing the two, the Series three has more of a sub-bass focused lower frequency presentation. Nebula One has more mid-bass and lower midrange presence. Although the Series 3 has a cleaner and more neutral middle frequency tuning, it is also blander than the more musical Nebula One. Series 3 has a bit more upper mid-range presence and very similar treble presence. Considering these two earphones have similar concepts in terms of how their sound is shaped, I give a ever so slight edge to the Nebula One for sound quality. Considering the fact that these are nearly twice as expensive (when they are on sale) it’s a much closer contest than the pricetag would indicate.
Build and design goes to the Nebula One. Despite the fact that I give a sight advantage to the Series 3 for their cable, I prefer the build, fit and sleek look of the Nebula One housings. I’d rather be seen in public wearing the Nebula One. I also give a decisive advantage to the Nebula One for their accessories package. They offer a nice clamshell case and adapters, while the Series three offers a velvet drawstring bag. For storage and no added adapters. All in all the Nebula One is a better built IEM with better accessories and slightly better sound. The big question is whether or not the improved aspects justifies the leap in price. At $99 USD I say yes, but at the $200 MSRP I say no way, no how.
Hisoundaudio HSA-AD01 ($129 USD on Penon Audio)
The AD01 is a dual hybrid (one dynamic and on armature driver in each channel) with a bass forward tuning:
Comparing the two, the AD01 has more of a sub-bass focus and improved clarity at mid-bass tones. The Nebula One has more of a mid-bass focus, and caters more to those who want a more colorful, forward and weighted mid-range. The Nebula One sounds a lot more busy and aggressive, while the AD01 sounds more technical and detailed. I have to be honest here and say that for my preference the AD01 sound takes the cake and justifies the thirty dollar leap in price.
All other aspect are another story. Build and design goes to the Nebula One. They offer a over the ear fit that works better than the flat cable and under-ear fit of the AD01. Nebula One also gets top honors for offering a accessories package which is far better than the few tips that come with the AD01.
Nebula one is mid-bass forward and colored sound. If that’s your thing you’re in luck. If you prefer a more linear and natural sound, you might want to skip these. They are a somewhat consumer friendly tuning that is beefy down low, and avoids sibilance up top. They play most genres of music reasonably well. They have an excellent shell design, decent fit, a mic/remote that works with pretty much every smartphone, and awesome accessories package. There’s a lot to like about these things. At the end of the day, there’s a ton of competitive products at the one hundred to two hundred dollar price point. While some will like the Nebula One sound, others may find something that sounds better for their preference at this price point.
When reviewing a product, I have to take all criteria into account. I give these earphones five stars for accessories, four stars for build and design (minus one star for the cable), four stars for fit and ergonomics, and three and a half stars for sound signature. All things considered, I give the Nebula One four stars overall.
Thanks for reading and happy listening!