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ADV.Sound M4

Rating:
4.125/5,
Tags:
  1. nimano45
    Budget goodiness, albeit with some issues
    Written by nimano45
    Published Jul 31, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Good lows and mids, excellent lightweight build, wonderful cable, cheap, carrying case
    Cons - Tricky and potentially "comfort and sound"-ruining fit, harsh highs.
    Disclaimer: the kind folks of ADV.SOUND/ADVANCE provided me a copy of the M4 in exchange for my honest opinion, expressed through a detailed review, provided a copy of the M4. I am in no way affiliated with the company. Photos from: https://www.adv-sound.com/collections/all-collection/products/m4
     
    About me:

    I am a young music-lover and former music producer from a little place called Bergen, Norway. My belief is that good sound should be accessible for everyone and anyone, which is why this review is not written from an audiophile perspective. As for my sound preferences, I tend to go back and forth between a v-shaped sound and a somewhat bassy one, with a slight roll-off in the highs, depending on source material. Warm, lively, exciting, powerful and impactful are all appropriate buzzwords. Also, to make my reviews more accessible, I use nothing but a cell phone and a desktop audio interface while testing. But enough about me, let us get to it…

     
     
    Packaging and accessories:
     
    Rather standard stuff here, but then it is not something I give great importance. It Is miles ahead of the packaging you get with your average $10 earbud, but again, nothing special in this department. The accessories, however, were a pleasant surprise. You get a small and compact carrying case, similar to the one accompanying the Philips Fidelio S2. There is plenty of space to store spare ear tips and other small accessories, which is always nice. While we’re on the subject of ear tips, you should be more than covered there as well, as you get a total of 9 pairs included, 10 if you include the ones “pre-installed”. They come in the flavors of Comply foam, dual flange and silicon. I found the best fit to be amongst the dual flange ones.
     
    m43.jpg
    Carrying case and the included ear tips.
     
     
    Design, build quality and cable:
     
    Design-wise, the M4 is in many ways a very interesting earphone. It features a very streamlined design, and thus qualifies as a “skinny” headphone. This makes it easier to insert it deep in your ear canals, for those interested in that. The design of the earphone itself is not the most flashy nor forward-thinking, but it does get the job done, seemingly focusing more on practicality than stylistic appeal .However, it is by no means an ugly product, just not something out of the ordinary. It is built out of premium materials, with some kind of metal used. I am not sure exactly which material is being used here, but it definitely has a premium feel to it. It is also very light-weight, which more often than not is a pro. Then there is the cable, which throws everything I mentioned earlier about a conservative design out of the water. This is something special. It is a braided cable made out of solid plastic, and it feels very durable. It is also, like ADV.SOUND proudly proclaim, essentially tangle-proof, which I can confirm. This is something I would like to see more frequently done by other manufacturers, and is one of the strongest points of this product.
     
    m42.jpg
     
    An exceptionally durable cable.
     
    Comfort and fit:
     
    Here I must admit I struggled quite a bit. Coming from my newly obtained V-Moda Zn, a much more expensive pair of IEMs, I could not seem to get these to fit properly. I kept getting that “suction-cup” feeling in my ear canals, which was both uncomfortable and provided a lackluster sound. This was the case with the majority of the ear tips included. The comply foam ones and one of the dual flange ones were the only ones who worked for me and provided a decent fit. If/when you get a good fit, they are very comfortable. Little stress on the ears, especially due to them being lightweight. Just about as comfortable as most IEMs. Nothing horrible, nothing extraordinary, like Klipsch’s ear tips. You get the idea. Still, I had a much trickier time to get these to fit than the other IEMs I own, have owned or tried out, which made the experience reviewing these much less enjoyable than it could have been.
     
    m41.jpg
    The earphones in all their glory.
     
    Sound:
     
    In this department, I mostly agree with what has already been said. First off, they are a rather balanced pair, in contrast to the vast majority of lower-end earphones, which either feature ear wrecking amounts of bass or none at all. No part of the sound is especially accentuated in a way that makes me notice it right away, which in my book is enough to be called “balanced”. Then a bit about the various sonic areas:
     
    Lows: relatively solid. They do not dominate the entire picture, which of course is a good thing. From my experience they mostly delivered in the mid-bass and upper bass, with the sub bass levels depending strongly on fit. But there is potential for some serious sub bass rumble as well, as some forum users have already mentioned. Still, they are solid overall and more than approved.
    Mids: nothing special here. Detailed enough, would not call them warm nor cold, from my own listening experience. These earphones are not mid-heavy by any means, but nor are they recessed. Again, very balanced. Nothing of note to complain about. Probably my favorite part of the M4s overall sound.
     
    Highs: now these are not as good. They are a bit harsh and shrill. Fairly detailed, yes, but also unpleasant to listen, especially over time. I got a good amount of listening fatigue due to this. If you are not treble-sensitive at all, this may not be a deal breaker, but for me they were. The music I listen to is already packed with treble, so noticeable harshness can be borderline painful, as I am somewhat treble sensitive. Good detailing, but I wish they made them smoother, especially concerning long-term listening session. Not approved.
     
    Soundstage: not bad, not extraordinary. It is fairly good, without being mind-blowingly good and jaw-dropping. About as good as you can get for the price. Not bad at all.
     
    Tonal balance and dynamics: I did not notice anything weird or off-putting here, which I guess translates to “good performance” in both of these areas. Nothing of note.
     
    Overall sound: good detail for the price. If not for the harshness in the highs, these would be sonically excellent given the $40 price tag. The lows, mids and highs are all filled with plenty of detail, which should satisfy most people looking for a cheap and durable pair of IEMs to use on the move. Sounding about as good as you get for $40 definitely makes these a pair to consider.
     
     
    Verdict: 3,5/5
  2. HiFiChris
    A decent Newcomer for a very fair price.
    Written by HiFiChris
    Published Jan 21, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - excellent cable, small size, precise soundstage, very fair price, adequate resolution
    Cons - bass could be slightly more arid, not for treble-shy people, no chin-slider
    IMG_20160108_084750.jpg
     

     

    Preamble:

    Before I start with my review, I would like to thank ADV.SOUND for providing me with a sample of their M4 in-ears (http://www.adv-sound.com/product/m4/) in exchange for my honest opinion.

    ADV.SOUND is a new company in the audio market and based in New York. With the M4 in-ears, they have introduced their first commercial product, which was funded on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter with the help of the community.
    The in-ears are advertised as with an “emphasis on midrange” and a “naturally balanced tuning”, on what I wouldn’t completely agree, as their sound signature is more of a mild v-shape which however delivers fun on a definitely not exaggerated level.
    To find out more, just read my review on these in-ears.


    Technical Specifications:

    Warranty: 3 years
    Price: $39.99
    Drivers: dynamic
    Impedance: 16 Ohms
    Sensitivity: 92 dB @ 1 kHz
    Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
    Rated Power Input: 1 mW
    Max. Power Input: 5 mW
    Cable Length: 1.36 m


    Delivery Content:

    The in-ears arrive in a nice looking black package which has got a large white ADV.SOUND logo as well as a plastic screen on the front’s upper half. Below is a picture of a mixer console as well as “designed for musicians” and “naturally balanced in-ear monitors” taglines.
    The back shows a picture of the uncompensated frequency response next to a description of the sound as well as a picture of the in-ears, placed on a guitar amplifier. Another picture that shows the whole delivery content is present, too.
    The left side shows the in-line cable remote, the right describes ADV.SOUND’s company philosophy.

    Sliding the cardboard box out, one will find the quite opulent delivery content which contains of the in-ears, a carrying case, a cable clip, three pairs of white silicone tips, three pairs of black silicone tips, three pairs of black double-flange silicone tips and last but not least one pair of Comply Foam Tips which are already pre-mounted.
     

    IMG_20160108_083113_edit.jpg   IMG_20160108_083220.jpg
    IMG_20160108_083140.jpg   IMG_20160108_083205.jpg
    IMG_20160108_083247.jpg   IMG_20160108_083623_edit.jpg
    IMG_20160108_083637.jpg



    Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

    The in-ears’ bodies are extremely small and made of matte silver aluminium.
    Next to the strain relief that contains the side markers, there are two small “ADV.” logos on the bodies, along with a small vent.
    The angled 3.5 mm connector is made of soft plastic, has got a decent strain relief as well as a decorative ring which is made of black metal.
    A really positively outstanding highlight is the cable which can usually only be found on custom-moulded and much more expensive in-ears, as it is made of twisted braids and has even got four braids below the y-split. The only thing I miss is a chin-slider.

    These in-ears’ build quality is really good and except for the MEE A151, I’ve never seen such a premium cable in the price range around $50.
     

    IMG_20160108_083707.jpg   IMG_20160108_083847.jpg
    IMG_20160108_084431.jpg   IMG_20160108_084453.jpg
    IMG_20160108_084507.jpg   IMG_20160108_084525.jpg
    IMG_20160108_083910.jpg   IMG_20160108_084010.jpg
    IMG_20160108_084237.jpg   IMG_20160108_084358.jpg



    Comfort, Isolation:

    As the in-ears are really small, the huge majority of users should be able to get a decent fit and seal.

    Both the “classical” wearing style with the cables straight down as well as the “professional” with the cables around the ears are easily possible and the latter massively reduces microphonics. Nonetheless, a chin-slider would be helpful to entirely eliminate cable noise, though alternatively the included cable clip can be used.

    Noise isolation is slightly lower than average in my ears.
     

    IMG_20160108_083707.jpg   IMG_20160108_084622.jpg
    IMG_20160108_084644.jpg   IMG_20160108_084722.jpg



    Remote Control, Microphone:

    The remote control is located on the left side and is in a good position both when wearing the in-ears with the cable straight down or over the ears.
    The single button for playback and phone controls is easily tactile and has got a nice pressure point.

    The microphone’s speech quality is above average; voices sound clear, natural and tonally correct. Solely sensitivity could be a bit higher.


    Sound:

    For listening, I used the largest white silicone tips, inserting the in-ears quite deep in my ear canals.
    My main source devices were the iBasso DX80 as well as HiFime 9018d, however I also sporadically used my BlackBerry Q10 (especially for testing the microphone).
    Before critical listening took place, I burnt the M4 in (just in case), although I am not much of a burn-in guy with in-ears and headphones.

    Tonality:

    Beforehand: the various included ear tips (excluding the Comply Foam Tips which I did not use) sound identical in my ears, except for the black double-flange tips which brighten up the sound a little more.
    Since earlier prototypes, the sound signature has been changed – the model I have is the most recent tuning.

    Shortly summarised, I would describe M4s’ sound as a rather gentle, more natural sounding v-shape with a focus on the treble.

    With about 5 dB, lows are surprisingly moderately raised. Main focus in the lows lays especially on mid-bass, upper bass as well as the lower and lower middle ground-tone, giving the lows a rather smooth, warmer character.
    Sub-bass is somewhat rolled off; the emphasis starts in the mid-bass and stops at 450 Hz where a neutral level is being reached again.
    The mids are just moderately in the background and sound a bit brighter than neutral, with a slightly hollow character.
    Presence area isn’t really recessed; from 2.5 to 3 kHz is a rather broad-banded peak located which gives the mids the just described tonality and appearance. At 5 kHz, I can hear a dip, but level starts increasing from 6 kHz on, forming another rather broad-banded peak between 8.5 and 9.5 kHz. Extension above 10 kHz is good.
    Generally, the treble is somewhat more prominent than the bass.

    On a personal side-note: right from the start, these IEMs gave me a lot of fun and positive smiles. Surely the M4 are rather cultivated “fun” in-ears than balanced reference monitors, however their sound signature clearly stays away from being exaggerated and bassheads will likely not be satisfied, though there is a really good compromise between fun and balance, with a tendency to the first.
    After longer listening sessions, treble can become somewhat obtrusive, as it is definitely bright and emphasised, however not really piercing, which is due to the rather broad-banded peaks. Although high frequencies don’t sound completely natural, they are nowhere near as metallic, piercing and cutting like for example the Sennheiser CX 200 Street II’s.


    Subsequently is a picture of M4s’ frequency response with the white silicone tips (which are identical to the black ones):

    comparisonforreview.png
     

    The plot was made with my Vibro Veritas setup which I calibrated to more or less mimic a real IEC 711 coupler, and in many cases results are very useable. The calibration also contains an applied diffuse-field compensation target.
    The results should more be seen as a rough visualisation than laboratory-grade exact values and are obviously not a precise as with professional measurement equipment (especially at 3, 6 and 9 kHz are stronger variations). Thus treble should be regarded with a grain of salt, because with deep insertion the peak at 9 kHz is at least 5 dB less present than on the graph.

    Resolution:

    I perceive detail retrieval as appropriate to good for the price – the M4 is no real insider’s tip but also miles away from being overpriced and among the better in-ears in its price range.
    Despite the rather strong treble emphasis, high frequencies are still quite pleasant, which speaks for a quite good resolution in this area. Though, they sound a bit more artificial and put-on than natural (which is a side-effect of the tonal tuning).
    Mids’ resolution is averagely good, though voices sound a tiny bit hollow, caused by the emphasis at 3 kHz, which makes especially female vocals somewhat more prone to (however rather soft sounding) sibilance.
    Bass is quite detailed and neither blunt nor artificial, nonetheless it clearly belongs to the softer side and isn’t super fast either. I’d describe impact and decay as rather full-flavoured and corporeal; with faster bass-lines the drivers give in a bit and start sounding somewhat muddy in the lows. Nonetheless, control is relatively decent and as long as the tracks aren’t overly fast, single bass notes and lines are quite sophisticated and cleanly rendered – still, I’d prefer slightly faster, more solid lows.

    Soundstage:

    M4s’ soundstage is rather averagely wide and deep, with a bit more lateral expansion than depth. Really positively striking regarding the price is the good instrument separation which doesn’t make musicians or tonal instruments appear blurry at all, but separates them quite precisely from each other. Emptiness between instruments or airiness however aren’t much present, but that is no con, as there are only very few IEMs in this price range that halfway manage to do so.
    With fast music material, separation collapses a little because of the bass which is more on the soft side.

    ---------

    Short Comparison with other In-Ears:

    TTPod T1 (non-E):
    Both share a quite identical bass emphasis, however T1’s is about 1.5 dB more prominent and extends slightly deeper. Bass impact is rather on the soft side as well, however decay is faster and therefore T1’s lows sound slightly more arid and controlled.
    T1’s treble is less emphasised, more even and therefore more natural.
    Resolution is about identical, which is a very good thing as I consider the T1 as one of the better in-ears in its price range.
    T1 has the larger soundstage with more spatial depth, however M4’s stage is better controlled and has the better instrument separation.

    Brainwavz M3:
    M3’s sound is more balanced, however with a midrange emphasis. M4 is stronger sounded, M3 sounds more natural, however it has also got a (though narrower) peak in the upper treble, making its highs sound slightly artificial as well, but more natural than M4’s due to the “relaxed” middle treble. M3’s vocal presentation is a bit darker, but also more up-front.
    Bass speed is slightly better on the M4.
    In terms of resolution, M3 is the winner.
    M4 has the wider soundstage; M3’s is (much) deeper and has the somewhat better separation and layering.


    Conclusion:

    ADV.SOUND’s M4 is a successful entry to the world of in-ears and headphones plus has got a really fair selling price.
    The in-ears offer quite good build quality with a formidable cable. Tonal tuning is a gentle v-shape with a tendency to a bright, emphasised treble which could probably be less prominent for better long-term listening qualities.
    For their price, the M4 in-ears do many things right and offer a very solid value for the money, with decent resolution and a soundstage with good instrument separation, plus they managed to put a distinct smile on my face.
    Solely a bit more bass speed and aridness as well as a chin-slider are things I’d like to see.

    Well done – 79% or rounded 4 out of 5 stars.
      mgunin, twister6 and B9Scrambler like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. HiFiChris
      @airomjosh 
       
      Yes, I'd consider the M4 as an upgrade from the HDS1, however a rather small one. That both have quite different tonalities should be taken into consideration as well, as the M4 is quite a lot brighter than the HDS1.
      HiFiChris, Feb 8, 2016
    3. airomjosh
      another quick question, are they sidegrade or upgrade from from re400?
      airomjosh, Feb 9, 2016
    4. HiFiChris
      @airomjosh 
       
      No idea, haven't heard the RE-400 myself yet.
      HiFiChris, Feb 10, 2016