AAW Nebula Two Hybrid In-Ear Monitor

General Information

Successor to the AAW Nebula One, the AAW Nebula Two is a hybrid universal in-ear monitor featuring a proprietary titanium diaphragm 10mm dynamic driver coupled with a custom designed balanced armature tweeter capable of frequency response up to 40 kHz. The AAW Nebula Two also features TrueXross(TM), an RC-free crossover network that improves coherence and minimizes phase shift.

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Pros: Sound quality, build quality, value for money, excellent microphone
Cons: Memory wire, non-detachable cable
This is a review of the Advanced AcousticWerkes Nebula 2 IEM’s.
 
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The Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW) Nebula 2 was sent to me from MusicTeck who is the authorized dealer in the US for AWW. A big THANK YOU to Andrew for contacting me and offer me free review sample for the Nebula 2. The retail price for the Nebula 2 is said to be $149 and it should soon be available on Amazon US as well as on the MusicTeck website :
 
http://www.musicteck.com/aaw
 
For more information about the Nebula 2 you can also visit the product page for them on AAW website:
 
https://www.aaw.me/collections/universal-in-ear/products/aaw-nebula-two-universal-in-ear-monitor
 
I’m not in any way affiliated with AAW or Music Teck nor do I gain financially by doing this review.
 
About Advanced AcousticWerkes:
AAW is a Singapore based company that has been doing custom made IEM’s for some time now.
 
This is what they say about themselves on 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.”
 
The AAW Nebula One is their first universal IEM’s they release and it’s also my first experience with the brand so let’s find out more about them.
 
About me:
I’m a 44 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
 
My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
 
My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
 
I do not use EQ, ever.
 
I tend to value function over form within reasonable limits.
 
I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
 
Built and accessories:
The AAW Nebula 2 is a hybrid IEM featuring one 10mm dynamic driver in addition to one balanced armature driver.
 
AFAIK it comes only in one flavor with a microphone.
 
I’ve recently reviewed the Nebula One as well (http://www.head-fi.org/products/aaw-nebula-one-titanium-diaphragm-in-ear-monitor/reviews/16756 ) and since their physical appearance is more or less identical those of you who’s read that review will find a lot the same between the two in the build and accessories section as well as in the fit and ergonomics section.
 
The cable has a 90 degree angled 3.5 mm connector and which I personally tend to prefer.
 
The cable is round and flexible but still feels a bit on the cheap side. The over the ears wearing style makes microphonics pretty much non-existing. The chin slider is also in place the way I like it. Unfortunately the Nebula One also has fixed memory wire for a more secure over the ear fit, I really don’t like memory wire as I never seem to get the perfect fit with IEM’s that has it. I much prefer a regular cable and a pair of included ear-hooks or even better a detachable one.
 
The build in general seem very solid. The housings are all metal and feel well made. Strain relief is in place on all the crucial points and the Y-split is also solid without being overly large.
 
Left/Right markings are black on black and not very easy to spot but the over ear wearing style makes it pretty much impossible to reverse the channels.
 
One more thing that might be worth mentioning and that I actually did forget in my review of the Nebula One is that the jack is a TRRS type. This may make it difficult to work with some sources. The only device I've run across any problem with is the iBasso D14 amp/dac where I need to make sure that the jack is not pushed all the way in since dong so result in a really weird sound. 
 
The retail package is plain and simple but still looks very nice.
 
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The accessories pack is ok at the price and includes the following:
6 pairs silicon tips in two different deigns (S,M,L)
1 6.3mm adapter
1 Airplane adapter
1 zippered case to store them in when not in use
1 Warranty card
1 Manual
 
The AAW Nebula 2 is easy to drive and worked very well with all the sources I’ve tried it with including cellphones. I don’t find them to benefit significantly from a more powerful amplifier but they do benefit from a good quality source.
 
The specs:
Housing
Zinc Alloy
Driver Unit
10mm dynamic driver + 1 BA driver
Frequenzy range
10Hz-40KHz
Sensitivity
101dB
Impedance
12Ohm
Weight
25 g
Cable lenght
1.2m
 
Fit and ergonomics:
Despite some issues with the memory wire I find the AAW Nebula 2 to be very comfortable and I’ve got no problem wearing them for several hours. As a matter of fact they’re the most comfortable IEM’s with memory wire that I’ve ever tried.  After reviewing the Nebula One I started to play around with some foam tips as well as the Sony hybrid isolation tips and found these to be even more comfortable than the dual flanges I’ve been using with the One’s. In general I’m not very fond of the sound from foam tips and although it’s ok with the Nebula 2 I’ve ended up with the Sony hybrid isolation tips as my preferred tips with them.
 
Isolation is definitely below average and if blocking out external noise is of great concern other offerings might be better. That being said they’re still work pretty well with music playing.
 
Sound:
OK, so far the Nebula 2 has been very similar to the Nebula one (build, accessories etc.) so let’s see if things change when it comes to sound.
 
I’ve used them back and forward in the last couple of months and they’ve played for well over 100 hours. I’ve used them both around the house and when out and about and I haven’t really found any significant weaknesses in the way they’re designed.
 
I’ve used them with my LG G3 phone and FiiO X3 combined with the iBasso D14 as well as the bit Opus #11 and although they’ve worked very well with all of them I find their performance to be greatly influenced by the source. As already mentioned they’re quite easy to drive but they’re revealing enough to change quite a bit with different sources. They’re also very sensitive to fit and tips used so I’ve got to admit that it’s taken me a long time to figure them out and that’s also the reason that this review is the IEM review that has taken the longest time for me to finish.  
 
As already mentioned I enjoy the AAW Nebula 2 the Sony hybrid isolation tips and that’s what I’ve used on them in this review.
 
Demo list:
Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
Ane Brun – These Days
Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
Metallica – Die Die My Darling
The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
Eva Cassidy – Songbird
Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Celldweller – Unshakeable
Jack Johnson – Better Together
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
Dire Straits- So Far Away
Passenger – Let Her Go
Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
 
The overall sound signature on the AAW Nebula 2 is full, fairly well balanced and with a great sense of 3D presentation.
 
The sub-bass extension on the Nebula 2 is quite good and it hits hard deep down making it quite enjoyable with bass heavy music. The texture of the sub-bass is a touch on the loose side making it a bit soft but it still manage to avoid sounding boomy, this is only noticeable compared to the best though and I actually like the bass on the 2’s a lot.  Mid- and upper-bass presence is good enough to make an engaging and enjoyable listening and do only interfere with the mid-range on some recordings and/or pairings. They have enough bass presence to be enjoyable with all kind of music for me but hardcore bass heads would probably like even more.
 
The midrange is pretty much in line with the rest of the frequencies, maybe ever so slightly recessed. The good bass presence gives a nice fundament for the midrange and the Nebula 2’s full enough without feeling really lush. Male vocals have enough weight to sound natural and female voices are crystal clear without being harsh. Although I usually prefer my midrange more forward then it’s on the Nebula 2’s I still find the overall balance to be great and highly enjoyable.
 
The treble is well extended and detailed but can get slightly harsh with some bad recordings. This is pretty close to how I like my treble with a lot of details and nice sense of airiness, a touch more warmth and richness and it would have been spot on. Ironically my ideal treble would be a mix between the Nebula One and 2.
 
Clarity and micro details are above average for an IEM at this price point. Soundstage in all directions is good and I’d even go as far as saying that soundstage width is excellent. 3D feeling and out of the head experience is also very good and well above average.
 
All in all the AAW Nebula 2 offers a very entertaining listening experience and both Thomas Dybdahl and Lil Dicky is presented excellent with an “out of the head” feeling that really brings out the smile.  
 
Comparison:
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
 
These comparisons were done listening from my recently acquired LG G5 with the HiFi Plus module in place.
 
AAW Nebula One ($99) vs AAW Nebula 2:
Compared to the Nebula 2 the One’s has quite a bit more bass presence especially in the mid- and upper bass. The sub-bass on the two are actually quite similar with the 2’s being a bit tighter. The One’s has the upper bass bleeding into the midrange with a lot of music and this is a lot less common with the 2’s. Both have a bit of recession in the midrange but the Oe’s even more so. Apart from that the midrange presentation is quite enjoyable on both with the 2’s having a cleaner and clearer characteristic. The treble extension is better on the 2’s but it’s also a bit thinner. The 2 has a wider soundstage and more airy presentation while the as well as have better depth and 3D presentation.
 
To be honest the Nebula 2 are on a different level from the One’s when it comes to sound quality and outperforms it in everything except bass quantity.
 
Fit, build and isolation are identical on them.
  
Vsonic GR07BE ($129) vs AAW Nebula 2:
Compared to the Nebula 2 the BE’s has quite a bit less bass presence. The sub-bass on the 2’s does both reaches deeper and hit harder while the BE’s bass is a bit tighter. The Nebula 2’s fuller across the frequencies making for a more relaxed listening while the BE’s more airy sounding. They both have a bit of recession in the midrange but the mids on the 2’s are a bit fuller. The treble extension is quite similar but the BE’s a bit thinner. Soundstage with is quite similar while the 2’s has better depth and 3D presentation.
 
I find the BE’s more comfortable due to my issues with the memory wire on the Nebula’s.
 
I like the metal housings on the 2’s better but the cable is definitely better on the BE’s. I’d say that overall build quality is pretty similar.
 
They BE’s are a bit harder to drive.
 
Isolation is equally low on both.
 
PMV A01 MK2 ($89) vs AAW Nebula One:
Although being quite a bit cheaper than the Nebula 2 the PMV’s are my favorite sub $100 hybrids so I thought it would be interesting to see how they stuck up to the Nebula’s.
 
Compared to the 2’s the sub-bass on the PMV’s reach a touch deeper and has more impact but with less quality making the them sound more boomy. The mid-bass are actually quite similar in both quantity and quality on the two of them. Both have enough mid- and upper bass to makes male vocals sounding full and natural. When it comes to female vocals both continue to perform very well but the 2’s pulls ahead with its more relaxed and refined upper midrange. The midrange on the PMV’s are definitely more forward but also more shouty and the overall balance of the 2’s are much better. The PMV’s does actually sound a bit hollow in comparison to the Nebula 2. The treble on the 2’s has a bit better extension and is also more refined. Details and clarity is good on both with a slight advantage to the 2’. The Nebula’s does also have better soundstage in all directions and better timbre to the notes as well as a more 3D presentation.
 
I find the PMV’s to be the more comfortable of the two.
 
Build quality is good on both but I prefer the lack of memory wire and cable on the PMV’s.
 
The PMV’s are a much easier to drive.
 
Isolation is quite similar, and low, on both.
 
Summary:
The AAW Nebula 2 does really offer the full package in my opinion. It has great build quality, is very comfortable and delivers excellent sound quality. They also offer a very good mic/remote making them great to use with mobile phones making them a great alternative for everyday usage. Unfortunately the stiff memory wire makes them less easy to take in and out of the ears than I appreciate and a detachable cable would have been a very welcome feature, especially the price considered.  
 
If it’s not clear I enjoy the sound of the AAW Nebula 2 a lot and would rate it at least on par with other excellent offerings like the VE Duke, Audio-Technica ATH-CKR9 and the Vsonic GR07BE. This puts me in a bit of dilemma since I’ve rewarded bot the former ones with five star reviews earlier despite the fact that neither of them offers detachable cable and that’s the only reason why I wouldn’t do the same to the Nebula 2. Being older and wiser (yeah, right :wink: ) combined with my hate for memory wires I’ve still decided to drop half a star on the overall rating. Let there be no doubt that I find the sound to perform to be at a five star level and the same goes for the value.
 
The AAW Nebula 2 is an easy recommendation to anyone looking for great performance for everyday usage. The fact that it’s easy to drive, has a great mic and that one of the best sources I’ve found for it is my LG G5 phone with the HiFi Plus module just helps to prove this.
 
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peter123
peter123
Thanks Vince! Looking forward to your review as well :)
 
@audio123  The Titan's cannot compete imo......
gprs007
gprs007
Good review Peter. 
tz0531
tz0531
Enjoyed reading your review, @peter123! Seems like our sound signature preferences are fairly close and we share similar impressions of the Nebula Two, but I'm hearing more treble extension in the Nebula Two vs the GR07 BE; I'm guessing that's due to differences in our high-frequency hearing, since you're older than me by quite a bit :wink:
Pros: Close-to-neutral with a natural sound rarely found in its price range, fantastic treble and bass extension, 3D soundstage, great instrument separation
Cons: Needs a quality source to shine, mild sibilance on poorly recorded tracks

DISCLAIMER:
 
I was contacted by Advanced Acousticwerkes (AAW) after leaving my review of their A3H Pro CIEM and was asked whether I wanted to review a new universal IEM they were releasing soon, the Nebula Two. As evidenced by this review, I said yes, and they sent me a demo unit of the Nebula Two free of charge, which I am not required to return. My sincerest thanks goes to the wonderful people at AAW for letting me have the opportunity to review this product; I hope to give an insightful and unbiased-as-possible review.
 
Personal Sound Preferences:
 
I prefer headphones that follow the Harman Target Response Curve (see the excellent articles at Innerfidelity), since they sound subjectively balanced and neutral to me. Some prior IEMs that I have tried are the Yamaha EPH-100 (possibly fakes), Phillips Fidelio S1, Alpha and Delta AD01, Dunu DN-1000, MOE SS01, TTPOD T1E, and the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore. My go-to reference IEM is the VSonic GR07 Bass Edition, since it follows the Harman Target Response Curve quite closely, save for a bit of excess energy around the 5-8 kHz area.
 
Overview
 
The Nebula Two is a hybrid universal IEM with two drivers: one 10mm dynamic driver handles lower frequencies and the other, a custom-designed balanced armature tweeter, handles higher frequencies. It is a semi-open back design with a proprietary crossover network that is free of resistors and capacitors, which minimizes phase shift and improves coherence. The cable has memory wire before the housings, and as such, the Nebula Two is meant to be worn over-the-ear. An inline mic with volume up, volume down, and play/pause buttons is also present; it is designed to be compatible with both Android and iOS devices. I confirmed that it works with my Nexus 5 running Android 6.0.1, but I have no iOS devices readily available with which I am able to test the inline controls. According to AAW, the Nebula Two will have a suggested retail price of US$149.
 
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Accessories: The demo unit that I received came with a square-ish AAW-branded clamshell case, three extra pairs of single-flange silicone tips, three pairs of foam tips, an airplane adapter, and a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter.
 
Build Quality: The cable is soft and pliable with very little memory effect or microphonics. The L-plug is tapered for use with thicker phone cases and has ample strain relief. Although not fragile, the plastic Y-split could use more strain relief. The memory wire works well and fits comfortably around my ears. Moving on to the shells, the outward part has a metal AAW branded faceplate with venting surrounding it, and black opaque plastic finishes the rest of the outward half of the shells, which is attached to dark, smoky translucent plastic on the inside of the shell that makes the dynamic driver slightly visible. The nozzle is made of silver plastic and has a nice metal mesh to protect the internals of the housing. Mic/control placement is natural and easy to use. Overall, the build is solid and what I would expect for the price.
 
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Fit and Isolation: The shells are circular and fairly ergonomic, but I did experience mild soreness on the outside of my left ear where the housing gently touches it; this was only at the end of longer listening sessions when first using the Nebula Two. After getting used to the shell shape, the outside of my ears rarely experience any discomfort, even after long listening sessions. Insertion depth is shallow, leading to a comfortable fit for me with the included tips, but slightly below-average isolation when coupled with the semi-open back design.
 
Efficiency: The Nebula Two has what I would consider slightly below-average efficiency out of mobile devices, but my Nexus 5 was still able to power them to listenable levels, albeit this was nearing max volume on the phone, requiring almost as much power as my full size Oppo PM-3.
 
Sound Quality
 
NOTE: Straight out of a mobile device, the Nebula Two is a bit V-shaped, with mids taking a back seat to slightly uncontrolled bass and splashy treble that is mildly to moderately fatiguing/sibilant on badly recorded tracks. Soundstage, clarity, and detail retrieval are mediocre, with no wow factor to the presentation. The Nebula Two is a whole different story out of a higher quality source though, scaling up noticeably: bass gains control, presence, extension, and impact; treble smooths out and extends better; mids move forward in the presentation to create a more neutral sound; and soundstage, clarity, dynamics, and detail retrieval improve significantly. As such, the following sound impressions are out of my Fiio E17 with the stock large silicone single flange eartips only.
 
Bass: The bass on the Nebula Two is exactly what I look for in an IEM; it extends extremely deeply, with boosted subbass that gives the bass overall excellent rumble, weight, and presence. The midbass is not boosted as much, but still has sufficient punch and impact. Speed and tightness is great for a dynamic driver; timbre and decay are natural. Upper bass to lower mid transition is handled very well, with no noticeable bass bleed into the midrange.
 
Mids: The mids on the Nebula Two are open, transparent, clear, and natural-sounding. Low-mid to high-mid transition is smooth, with note weight that is neither too thick nor thin and no unnatural boost in the upper mids to give the illusion of detail retrieval. Vocals have a placement that is neither laid back nor forward, although the soundstage depth gives the impression that vocals can be a little distant at times. Quantity wise, the mids are a little behind the lows and highs, but not too noticeably.
 
Highs: The highs on the Nebula Two have excellent balance; low, mid, and upper treble are all represented equally, leading to a natural attack, sustain, and decay of cymbals that makes many other IEMs I’ve heard sound a bit off in comparison. Electric guitars have sufficient crunch without accentuated buzz or fizz. Airiness is phenomenal for the price, with treble that extends to the limits of human hearing, and possibly past it, considering the balanced armature tweeter is rated up to 40 kHz. Although the treble is fairly smooth considering the lack of roll-off, there is still mild sibilance on poorly recorded tracks, but this is not a problem on good recordings. Texture and micro-details are great, with overall detail retrieval being better than what I would expect given the price.
 
Soundstage and Imaging: Width and height are approximately of equal proportion, and both are above average, with the height being more so. Depth is excellent, with fantastic instrument separation and precise imaging, aided by the airiness and detail retrieval of the balanced armature tweeter.
 
General Thoughts: Overall, if I had to choose one word to describe the sound of the Nebula Two, it would be “natural”. Frequency range transitions are all very well executed, and there are no obvious dips or peaks in the frequency response. The overall sound is close to, but not quite, neutral; I would say bass is best represented in its frequency response, then treble, then mids after that, resulting in a minimally U-shaped response with slight emphasis on subbass and extended treble. AAW most certainly did it’s homework in regards to tuning the Nebula Two; excellent job, AAW!
 
Comparisons
 
1More Triple Driver: The 1More has more of a midbass boost than the Nebula Two, spilling over into the midrange and causing veiling and unnatural note thickness. Despite the greater midbass of the Triple Driver, the Nebula Two has greater bass presence and slam due to its better bass extension and boosted subbass. The 1More also has a significant dip in frequency response in the mid-treble, causing it to have an unnatural, hollow sound next to the Nebula Two. Soundstage is much bigger on the Nebula Two, with better detail retrieval and imaging, too. Clearly this is a case where more drivers does not necessarily equal better sound.
 
VSonic GR07 Bass Edition: The Nebula Two and GR07 BE share some striking similarities: both are universal IEMs that have similar prices and are designed to be worn over-the-ear, both are close to neutral with mids slightly behind bass and treble, and both have mild sibilance on poorly recorded tracks. The differences come in terms of end-to-end extension and soundstage: the Nebula Two has better bass and treble extension, with more subbass weight and treble airiness, and it also has a bigger, more 3D soundstage, with noticeably more soundstage height and depth that makes the GR07 BE’s soundstage seem compressed and flat in comparison. The bigger soundstage and greater airiness of the Nebula Two also mean it has better instrument separation. Straight out of a smartphone, the GR07 BE sounds better, but out of a quality source, the Nebula Two is clearly the superior IEM, scaling much more than the GR07 BE.
 
AAW A3H Pro: I chose this comparison because the A3H Pro is the first custom IEM I’ve ever owned and the first IEM I ever bought from AAW; it is also an interesting comparison because the A3H Pro is a triple driver hybrid and the Nebula Two is a dual driver hybrid, both from the same company. In terms of frequency response, there is no contest: the Nebula Two wins hands down, making the A3H Pro sound incredibly thick, muddy, and dull in comparison. The A3H Pro does have a slightly bigger soundstage, but sounds more congested than the Nebula Two due to the note thickness of the A3H Pro. Benefits of going custom aside, the Nebula Two clearly has better sound quality than the A3H Pro.
 
Conclusion
 
The AAW Nebula Two has solid build quality, adequate accessories, and excellent sound quality for the price. I’ve never heard an IEM with a more natural, balanced sound before; add to that a 3D soundstage, phenomenal end-to-end frequency extension, and great instrument separation with fantastic detail retrieval, and you get an IEM that punches well above its asking price. The Nebula Two has dethroned my VSonic GR07 Bass Edition as my critical listening and reference IEM, an impressive feat considering the Nebula Two doesn’t cost much more than the GR07 Bass Edition. The only caveats one might have with the Nebula Two are that it needs a quality source to shine and that it can be mildly sibilant with bad recordings. If you already have a decent source or can fit one into your budget, the AAW Nebula Two is a serious contender in its price bracket and even beyond, worthy of consideration by anyone looking for a seriously capable IEM for a reasonable price.
tz0531
tz0531
@HeadHigh From my memory, the Yamaha EPH-100 had a "soft" sounding bass, with some bass bleed into the midrange and a very metallic treble. The Nebula Two has tighter, punchier bass, no bass bleed into the midrange, better clarity, and much more natural sounding treble. This is assuming you're running them out of a decent source, of course.
HeadHigh
HeadHigh
Thank you .
I like soft unbright treble so eph100 is better for my taste .
What' your fav. Ciem ? and do you find incoherent sound that usually found even in high end ciem ?
tz0531
tz0531
@HeadHigh The only CIEM I have experience with and currently own is the AAW A3H Pro, which I reviewed before the Nebula Two. I didn't like it very much since it was not in line with my sound signature preferences, but you might like it if you want smooth/subdued treble, rich/thick mids, and boosted bass, which is similar to the Yamaha EPH-100. I found the sound very coherent, probably due to the special crossover circuit in it that was designed to eliminate coherency problems usually found in multi-driver IEMs.

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