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In-Ear item created by Cinder, Jul 28, 2016
Pros - Big bass, adequate mids and highs, very comfortable and discreet
Cons - Lacking finer detail
Firstly I would like to thank AAW for sending me this sample to review, as always I try to write honest reviews, these received over 50hrs of burn-in before review, no big differences were noted.
Audio Opus #2 DAP > AAW Q with S silicone tips
· Proprietary 6mm Dynamic MicroDriver
· Impedance: 42Ohm
· Frequency Range: 10Hz-400000Hz
· Sensitivity: 113db SPL @ 1mW
· Input Power: 3mW
· Cable Length: 1.27m
· MSRP: S$299 (around £165)
Packaging, Accessories and Build quality:
The Q come in a nice white box with a large Q in silver, and the slogan tiny is the new big in the middle. A magnetic flap opens and you have the tech specs and info on the IEM’s on the inside, plus a picture and also a window through which you can see th IEM’s. All the accessories and the IEM’s are held underneath a plastic flap, open this up and you are greeted with a great array of accessories all very well presented. The box is slim, neat and attractive.
Accessory wise you get quite a bit, you get a carry case, magnetic cable clip, 3.5 to 6.3mm adaptor , airplane adaptor, and quite a few tips (S, M and L foam and silicone tips). Everything you need is included and most people will be able to get a good fit with the included tips.
Build quality feels very good, there is very little strain relief on the housing due to its size, but the cable feels sturdy and both the y-split and jack both feel great. The housing is metal and very well finished, and with some care I can see these lasting well.
Comfort, Isolation, Cable noise and Driver flex:
I found the most secure and comfortable fit using small silicone tips, and due to the design and weight these are possibly the most comfortable IEM’s (apart from custom made) I have ever used. They stay in your ears well, and are almost invisible when inserted, they would be good for long plane journeys also, and you could sleep with these in.
Isolation is good, not great due to the vented nature of the housing, but perfectly adequate for everyday usage and most forms of public transport.
Cable noise is a slight issue, but if you use the cable clip, or even the chin slider, you can bring it down to a very low level so that is doesn’t impact your listening experience.
Driver flex is minimal and only happens upon initial insertion usually.
Split in to the usual categories, with a conclusion at the end.
Lows: The lows are probably what grab your attention first, don’t be fooled by thinking this small IEM would sound thin and flat. These seem to really be able to push air very well indeed, I would say the bass is probably the dominating frequency on these but not in a bad way, they are just slightly elevated. The lows are slightly lacking in speed, which means they are not perfect for metalcore, but most genres play very well with these.
They have incredible body, punch is very good and also articulation, they also dig very deep too. This slight boost in the lows make them good in slightly noisier environments like public transport, but also help if you want them for sports as they would help you keep track of the beat of the song. These shine when playing pop music (stick on some Katy Perry and you’ll understand) the bass really is incredible from such tiny IEM’s, you get all the punch and articulation from the lows, without losing track of the rest of the song.
Mids: The mids fair well with both male and female vocals, however male vocals are slightly warmer than neutral due to some slight bleed from the lows. Luckily the mids are not heavily recessed and the sound is well layered so that everything comes through. Nothing too special about the mids, I would like a little more presence and detail, but they are smooth, non fatiguing and sibilance free, so not all bad.
Highs: Again nothing too wrong with the highs, they are there, not in huge quantities but with good detail. They are just lacking sparkle and presence which does make these sound a little dull on occasion. I think the highs need to be a little more up front for these to really shine, you can alter them slightly with EQ but it does not help a lot.
Instrument separation is good, there is not a lot of air between everything due to these having quite a full sound. The soundstage isn’t huge either, these are quite intimate and fun sounding.
Conclusion, these are a very fun sounding headphone that work well with music that has quite a prominent bass beat, but don’t fare so well with more intricate and complex music. Rock sounds too dull due to the lack of highs, acoustic is a little too warm and full sounding sometimes also. But these are very comfortable, great for out and about use where they sound a little more balance due to the external noise. I really quite like these even with their flaws they are very easy to listen to, non fatiguing and fun.
Sound Perfection Rating: 7.5/10 (Lacking in detail and treble, but very fun and extremely comfortable)
Pros - fantastic sound, excellent easy fit, great case
Cons - i like box packinging
Advanced AcousticWerkes Q Earphone Review - Expatinjapan Head Pie
Advanced AcousticWerkes Q earphone with the Hifiman MegaMini Dap
Advanced AcousticWerkes Q review
I tried the AAW Q earphone at the e-earphone show in Tokyo, July 2016 and surprised that such a powerful and full sound could come out of such a small earphone.
The Q is one of the latest earphone in a new line up of universal earphones from Advanced AcousticWerkes who also specialize in custom IEMs.
There are the Nebula One (S$149) and Nebula Two (S$199) universal models available also.
What you get
A beautiful and easy to use carrying case.
The earphones themselves. Strong and well built.
The jack is well supported, also at the splitter and earphones relief points.
Close ups of the leather carry case,
Leather cable clip, flight adaptor and 1/4 inch (6.35mm) adaptor plug.
A wide range of foam and silicone tips to choose from.
AAW Q and CEntrance Hifi-Skyn.
Information, specifications and company history.
From the AAW website:
Designed to be the smallest audiophile earphone in the world, Q is a feat of precision engineering, advanced acoustic tuning, human ergonomics and audiology research.
The ICM Concept Q forms its own unique class in the earphone world, which is depicted as ‘In-Canal Monitor’ or ICM. The patent pending design sees Q in a staggering micro size of 8.8mm in length, 6mm in diameter and weighs less than one gram per side. It is coupled with a proprietary designed silicone ear tip, approximately 70% of the Q’s body sits inside the auditory canal. Furthermore, the 6mm dynamic driver places itself in the front cavity of the acoustic chamber and the diaphragm spearheads the entire acoustic system, which makes the membrane to membrane distance minimized to a degree of less than 20mm. Such close proximity reduces unwanted resonation on the high frequency to produce a coherent and smooth treble while maintains excellent extension. Q is almost invisible when fully inserted, the smaller space in front of the diaphragm also reduces decay in bass energy and more accurately presents the deepness feeling in the bass realm. Despite the miniature size, Q offers a full bodied and organic sound, with deep impact and spatial sound stage.
The 6mm Dynamic Micro Driver The AAW in-house developed 6mm driver is stainless steel bodied with ultra-thin bio-composite diaphragm. The center ring of the membrane is more rigid, coupled with lightweight voice coil allows faster movements and improves high frequency extensions. The outer ring is more tenuous configured so it moves air in higher amplitude and in turn offers better bass response. The tonality is specially tuned with in-canal application in mind. It is capable of extending to both extremes of the sound frequencies (10Hz to 40kHz).
Build and Ergonomics Q’s acoustic body is completed constructed in stainless steel. It is milled to such precision that the outer shell is of 200-micron thickness, it enables Q to maintain such a petite footprint so it is adaptable even for the smallest ear canals out there. The stainless steel material ensures hardness and durability is maintained despite the ultra-thinness. The Y-split and 3.5mm connector are built in the same fashion for everlasting lifespan. Since Q is made to be deep canal fit, AAW has put every effort in minimizing the cable microphonic effect while delivering an unparalleled sonic performance. Q’s cable can be worn straight down or over-ear, paired magnetic cable clip, cable noise is kept at bay.
Cable Q’s cable is designed to be ultra-flexible and sheathed with high quality nylon sleeve for the longevity and at the same time to be aesthetically pleasing. The conductors are made of premium grade Oxygen Free Copper, strengthened with tensile nylon strands. It ensures precise signal transmission and rich detail retrieval, providing immense clarity over the sound realm with better depth, width, image focus and finer low range resolution.
Accessories Being deep canal fit, right sized tips for Q are critical for a perfect fitting. Q comes with 3 pairs AAW proprietary designed silicone tips and 3 pairs of memory foam tips in various sizes. These tips are specially configured to have a special stem which hosts the Q’s stainless body and places the ICM firmly in ear canal. The memory foam tips expand to fit ear canal space and soften when in contact with body warmth. Q is also supplied with a magnetic cable clipper to fixate cable onto clothing to further eliminate cable noise. Standard flight adapter and 3/8” to 1/8” adapter is included as well. AAW has designed a premium leather pouch to holster Q, it is slim and compact to carry around and with cable management built in. A uniquely designed leather cable clip is also included to further eliminate cable noise.`
From the AAW website:
Earphone sleeve: Foam 3 pairs, Ultra-Flex 3 pairs
AAW carrying pouch
1/4 inch adaptor
Specs from the AAW website:
Proprietary 6mm Dynamic MicroDriver
Frequency Range: 10Hz-400000Hz
Sensitivity: 113db SPL @ 1mW
Input Power: 3mW
Cable Length: 1.27m
Android/Apple dual mode inline remote control
Everything comes nicely sealed in a convenient bag.
Tips are nicely covered on arrival also, and arranged on a metal base.
I listened to the Advanced AcousticWerkes Q earphone after giving it a solid burn in of over 100 hours. Stock silicone tips.
I used the Opus#1 Dap, Shozy Alien Gold, CENtrance Hifi-Skyn (with Flacplayer app), Hifiman MegaMini and also straight out of the ipod touch 6G.
I used FLAC tracks throughout my testing.
The Advanced AcousticWerkes Q earphone as I have already mentioned is a surprising piece of design and engineering. Operating with only a small micro driver within a tiny casing the AAW Q produces an astonishing feat of accurate music reproduction.
The bass is crisp , deep and full with a fast decay.
The mids are lush, smooth and organic.
The treble is sweet and beautifully extended to a satisfying point.
To my ears it seems fairly accurate in its reproduction of music tracks.
Soundstage is medium to wide, more to the sides with the vocals from the middle to the front of your skull.
Sub bass hits just under and behind the ears, whilst general bass is one the sides of ones head.
Something like Jeff Buckley hits all the right notes.
Massive Attack comes across as dreamy and floating when the Mezzanine album comes on.
trespassers William with their attention to detail and lingering cymbals and melodic harmonies is reproduced faithfully and detailed. Yet, sweet and full to ones ears.
Portishead hits hard and deep as it short, the manufactured distortion comes across clear as a bell.
Leonard Cohen `Waiting for the miracle` thumps along and his grainy voice is deep manly as ever, the music in the background is deliciously reproduced.
Lana Del Rey `Dark paradise` is crystal clear in the nitro, when the bass comes on it hits hard with a fast decay.
Norah Jones `turn me on` is even, and well paced with a certain clarity and excellent separation of the instruments.
The Verve `This time` is very musical and seems to handle all the different instruments with aplomb.
The Smiths `Ask me` is quick and fast, separation is great, medium soundstage.
The Q is a little wonder and a headphone I plan to add to my general rotation.
The size and full sound makes it a match for most daps. I did find my experience with the Hifi-Skyn to be a winner.
The small size factor makes it perfect for walking, commuting or even at the gym (I would not want to get sweat on this little beauty though).
The excellent sound quality the Q produces makes it a great choice within the $200 - $300 range.
At S$299 or US$214 the Q earphone is placed in the moderate pricing zone.
It is great value in my opinion as it out performs its price point, and in such a small footprint also.
Build is simple, well designed and robust.
The sound is wonderful.
I will probably be handing these onto my wife as they are the first earphones with a full quality sound, extremely small foot print to appear on my review table. She is sensitive to high volumes so I think these at a low volume will produce enough dynamics to satisfy. I would most certainly keep it for myself If she had not been waiting a long time for the perfect earphone for her.
The fit is so easy, they just nest within, very easy not to even notice them. just the tip, no hard edges to rub against one inner or outer parts.
The Advanced AcousticWerkes Q earphone is value for money.
It a medium to full sounding earphone, good detail retrieval, nice decent sound stage, great instrument separation.
It performs very smoothly and clear, yet also has a clarity and crispness to it. It seems to tread the fine line between pleasingly analytical and beautiful musicality.
Nice deep full bass, easy warm mids and reaching clear treble.
A very easy to listen, smooth and at times organic earphone, creamy female vocals, twinkling treble where it counts. A very enjoyable earphone.
In short. I love this like wonder very much. How they managed to pack all this into such a small footprint is beyond me.
Excellent Advanced AcousticWerkes!
Thank you to Advanced AcousticWerkes for sending Head pie the Q for review
Pros - tiny!, great fit, nimble and quick feeling micro driver, midrange not much overshadowed by the bass, good/solid resolution
Cons - case not always ideally sized for rolling up the cable, (not for bass-shy people w/o vent mod,) sub-bass a bit blunt/dry w/ v. low extending tracks
Advanced AcousticWerkes, in short known as AAW, is a Singapore based manufacturer best known for custom-moulded in-ear monitors (CIEMs). Not long ago, they have introduced a line of universal fit in-ears that are not universal models of their CIEMs, but a independent product line.
One of them, simply called “Q” (https://www.aaw.me/collections/universal-in-ear/products/aaw-q-in-canal-monitor), isn’t just a regular single dynamic driver in-ear but actually probably the tiniest universal fit in-ear existing, having a dynamic 6 mm micro-driver that is built into a housing that is just barely larger than the driver itself, resulting in a weight of less than one gramme per side.
And as the Q is so small and sits inside one’s ear canals, it is called “in-canal monitor” by the manufacturer.
Might this in-ear be a cure for people with really small ears and can I with my large ears also find a comfortable fit? Let’s find it out!
Before I go on, I want to take the time to personally thank Advanced AcousticWerkes for sending me a sample of the Q in-canal monitors free of charge for the purpose of an honest, unbiased test and review.
Proprietary 6 mm Dynamic MicroDriver
Impedance: 42 Ohm
Frequency Range: 10Hz-400000Hz
Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL @ 1 mW
Input Power: 3 mW
Cable Length: 1.27 m
Android/Apple dual mode inline remote control
I did not receive a full retail package but a transparent bag that included the usual paper stuff, an AAW-branded metal plate with foam and silicone ear tips (in total, there are three pairs in three different sizes for each sort of tips), an airplane adapter, a 6.3 to 3.5 mm adapter, a magnetic pleather cable managing tool, the in-ears and last but not least a blue pleather carrying case with magnetic fastener.
Looks, Feels, Build Quality:
The in-ears are tiny and very short – not much surprising as pretty much only the tiny driver is sitting in the metal housings that have got small side markers in forms of “L” and “R” letters.
The straight 3.5 mm jack is made of silver metal, too, and carries a small “Q”, just as the y-split that is also made of metal.
The cable is nicely flexible and appears rather sturdy. Above the y-split is a small chin-slider. Below the y-split, the cable is coated with woven nylon, and if you know me, you might be aware that while I find this nicely looking, I am not a big fan of such fabric/nylon coatings because especially in portable use, they will fray over time.
The strain relief on the headphone jack and y-split appears sufficient, however directly at the in-ears, it is a bit too short and doesn’t appear too protective – due to the in-ears small size, one has to pull the cables to remove them, so this might be a weak spot on the long run.
The rectangular carrying case with the metallic AAW plate and blue pleather looks really nice and seems to be inspired by the Sennheiser IE 800’s carrying case, however just with the one of my IE 800, I would have preferred a regular carrying care instead of the roll-up type that takes more time to store the in-ears and lets dust come in. Also, it seems not to be perfectly calculated, so the connector/cable often doesn’t fully wrap around but leads to the cable building a loop, else it couldn’t be stored.
While the inner foam insert can be removed to allow for different ways of storage, I would have really preferred a normal carrying case instead.
The in-ears were designed to be tiny, and that’s what they just are. Due to their size, it is easier to insert them deeper than many regular in-ears while they still don’t pass the ear canals’ first bend.
Inserting the Q in-canal monitors can be either done with the cables down or around the ears, however I would recommend the latter as it is the professional method that reduces microphonics, improves fit and also allows for a deeper insertion.
The Q monitors fully disappear in my ear canals with my conchas remaining entirely free. Wearing the cables around my ears, what I always do, I feel a little like an undercover agent as they disappear in my ears and are super unobtrusive.
Even without using the chin-slider, microphonics are close to being inexistent.
Although the in-ears have got a small vent in each side, they isolate surprisingly well while they don’t completely reach the isolation of fully closed models.
I am no burn-in believer with in-ears and headphones, nonetheless I played more than 150 hours of continuous noise and sine signals before listening started.
The main source devices I used for the Q were the iBasso DX80, Luxury & Precision L3 Pro and also my iPhone 4.
For listening, I used the largest included silicone tips with deep insertion.
Before I started doing the sine sweeps, cross-comparisons and equalized comparisons, I wrote down my subjective impressions on paper, as I always do. Here is a summary of what I wrote:
The Q has got a portable use-friendly, bass-driven sound signature with a really strong and impactful mid- and sub-bass (early guess: ca. 15 dB more quantity than with a strictly flat monitor) with an upper bass kick that is strong as well. The lower mids are on the warmer, fuller side however still not too artificial and remind me a bit of the Sennheiser Amperior’s vocals with a little more warmth. Despite the strong bass emphasis, it doesn’t bleed too much into the midrange. The middle treble around 5 kHz is a bit more in the background, giving vocals a relaxed presentation. The upper highs around 10 kHz show a peak that adds clarity, however the highs are not even slightly obtrusive or harsh as they decay quickly (maybe a little too fast) and compensate for the strong bass elevation – I really wouldn’t describe the sound as being v-shaped at all but bassy instead.
This type of signature with a really strong bass emphasis and smooth, warm lower mids fits well for outdoor use in noisy environment and where bass-masking happens, such as in a train, public transport or airplane.
Without the strong bass, the sound is even pretty natural, realistic, very cohesive and quite even.
What’s pretty interesting – while the sound in stock form is not the most realistic and more tuned for urban street use, covering the small vent, the in-canal monitor can actually be turned into a fairly balanced sounding in-ear with just a small bit of extra bass.
And that’s what I am hearing listening to sine sweeps and doing equalized cross-comparisons:
The lows start climbing around 700 Hz with more of a bulky than linear shape, reaching their climax around 75 Hz and a somewhat warm, impactful root and upper bass and strong midbass. Bass is ca. 14 dB more forward than with a really flat in-ear monitor like the ER-4S from Etymotic Research. Below 40 Hz, it is losing some quantity while the sub-bass is still audible and strong enough.
Level between 700 Hz and 2.5 kHz is pretty consistent with an even dip between 4 and 7 kHz and an even, unobtrusive emphasis between 8 and 11 kHz. From there on, level is rolling off in the super treble.
By the way, this is what I recorded with my pseudo-diffuse-field-compensated-calibrated Vibro Veritas coupler (you can read more about the graphs and process of how they are taken and the inaccuracy in my measurements following this external link: frequency-response.blogspot.com/p/about-measurement-graphs.html):
The plot that was taken after I wrote down my impressions pretty much backs them up, however what is to be noted is that the dip in the middle highs is not as deep but only rather half as present (it is a calibration error in my setup and can be found on all of my measurements) and that the upper treble emphasis is definitely less present when listening to music and even sine sweeps due to the deep insertion in my ears and also the elevated bass.
Such a strong bass elevation is mostly also quite straining for the driver and leads to a loss of control – with the Q, this can be sometimes heard as well to some extent.
But first things first: the AAW Q does neither belong to the best resolving dynamic driver in-ears around $200 nor would I ever consider it as belonging to the worse ones. On the average, the detail retrieval hits a good spot (noticeably better than the NuForce NE-800M but somewhat below the LEAR LHF-AE1d).
What’s quite noticeable is that despite the strong bass emphasis, the Q feels very nimble and the bass is surprisingly fast, well-controlled and decays really quickly. Fast bass lines don’t muddy up but remain controlled without overpowering. However, the resolution on low notes could be somewhat higher and the lows have got some one-noted tendency when the track extends deep and is really fast at the same time and then sound a little blunt (covering the vent and therefore reducing the bass, this does not happen anymore).
Playing music that doesn’t extend as low and has got just little bass, the mids and treble sound adequately detailed and resolving for the price with good separation, air and control. When the bass kicks in on a slower or normally fast track, the mids and treble don’t lose much of their control, separation and details, but it is noticeable that the driver is stressed somewhat more because of the strong bass. Playing fast and deep extending recordings, the Q’s small drivers start to sound strained, noticeably lose resolution and also separation, and the highs start decaying too quickly.
Without the strong bass (or normally fast tracks), the mids sound even nicely layered with good speech intelligibility and high naturalism, and the treble has got good separation with the right amount of decay.
So summarised, with normally fast tracks, the Q sounds well to averagely detailed for the price, and with really fast and deep extending recordings, it becomes somewhat strained and falls somewhat below the average threshold while still remaining nimble and quickly decaying.
Covering the vent hole which leads to a bass reduction, the Q does not sound constrained in the mids and treble anymore when the deep bass kicks in on fast tracks, which leads me to the idea that it would be really interesting to have an additional back plate to cover the vent or a hybrid in-ear with the really nimble and quickly decaying dynamic lows driver of the Q but with a BA driver for the mids and treble.
As long as you don’t listen to really fast music with the stock open vent, you really won’t have any problems with the mids and treble though, but will get an adequate detail resolution out of a really nimble and controlled small dynamic driver.
The soundstage has about average width with only slightly less spatial depth, creating an overall three-dimensional and quite open virtual stage.
Instrument separation and spatial positioning are good as well as precise and tracks with many instruments or layers are reproduced well. Only with really fast tracks that have a deep bass extension, instrument separation becomes somewhat blurry.
In Comparison with other In-Ears:
The Omega in-ears are in a much lower price league, nonetheless I wanted to include them as they are really small, too.
The Q is smaller, shorter and better built, with the more flexible cable.
The U-shaped Omega has got a comparably strong sub-bass and lower midbass while the Q is fuller in the rest of the midbass, upper bass and root and has got the warmer mids compared to the Omega’s somewhat bright mids that sound less natural and a bit metallic in comparison. In the middle highs, the Q is more recessed and relaxed. The Omega’s upper treble sounds brighter and more metallic.
Detail retrieval and control are not much surprisingly better with the Q that has especially got the better controlled and quicker decaying, faster bass.
The Q’s soundstage is a little wider but also audibly deeper and creates more air around instruments. With fast tracks, the Omega’s stage collapses somewhat whereas the Q doesn’t lose much separation.
Price-wise, the q-JAYS are more expensive and also feature a different driver configuration (dual-BA vs. single dynamic) which is usually the major reason why I don’t like to do comparisons like this one, however I still decided to do it this time as the Jays in-ears are very small monitors, too. Just a quick note regarding the q-JAYS’ upper treble peak: inserting the in-ears really deeply, like I usually do, I don’t perceive it as being piercing or overly bright at all anymore, however it can be if you are treble-sensitive and don’t insert the IEMs as deeply.
The q-JAYS are better built and feature removable cables. They also isolate somewhat more. While the AAW Q in-canal monitors are smaller, the q-JAYS are small, too, and I can insert them a good bit deeper because of their shape, avoiding the upper treble peak’s sharpness.
Tonality-wise, the Jays sound much more balanced with a neutral-ish tendency. Covering the Q’s vent, the in-ears sound just slightly bassier than the Jays and a lot bassier with open vents. In the mids, the Jays are spot-on neutral to my ears compared to the moderately warm mids of the Q. The Q-Jays don’t have as much of a middle treble recession and a somewhat narrower, brighter upper treble with the better extension above 10 kHz at the same time.
Both in-ears have got different drivers with the Jays being dual-BA in-ears, so it is not that surprising that they sound cleaner, quicker and better controlled with fast music and also feature the higher detail retrieval in the mids and treble.
Soundstage size is very comparable with the Jays featuring the sharper and cleaner separation.
Echobox Audio Finder X1 (silver filters):
The Finder X1 in-ears are quite small and offer a great fun sound signature with a strong U-shaped tonality and great control, hence I really love using them on the outside when I am out for an engaging and entertaining sound.
The Finder in-ears are a little larger. The Q sits a little deeper in my ears. Build quality of the ear pieces is more premium with the Echobox while both have got really nice cables with the AAW’s being a bit more flexible. The Q isolates slightly better.
Sound signature-wise, the X1 is even more on the fun side with a strong U shape. Sub-bass is a little more present on the X1 while the lower midbass is equally present on both. In the rest of the lows, the X1 is however leaner in comparison, making it a mainly sub-bass focussed in-ear. In the mids, the Q is warmer and doesn’t appear distant in comparison the Echobox. The Finder’s highs are evenly rising from the lower to the upper treble, wherefore it is the brighter in-ear. The Q’s treble is somewhat more even and realistic in the treble though.
Detail retrieval in the mids and treble is pretty similar to my ears. In the bass, with normally fast recordings, the Q appears to be slightly more nimble and faster decaying, however with really fast tracks, the Finder X1 doesn’t lose details and separation in the mids and highs whereas the Q does to some extent.
The Finder’s soundstage is wider while both in-ears have got identical amounts of spatial depth to me and are also identical when it comes to separation and spatial precision.
Overall, I would say both are technically pretty much on the same level.
Sennheiser IE 80 (lowest bass setting):
Size-wise, the IE 80 doesn’t really fit into this comparison and it is also not the best in-ear with fast and more complex/busy tracks, however it is quite popular and works pretty well for intimate and slower recordings, especially older Classic Rock, Singer-Songwriter stuff and Acoustic recordings. In addition, it has got a very large and three-dimensional soundstage.
The AAW doesn’t have removable cables, however they are considerably more flexible. The Sennheiser is obviously larger and fits more shallowly.
With the maximum bass setting of the Sennheiser, the Q is still slightly more impactful and bassier. The IE 80, also in the lowest bass setting, has got the warmer and fuller root while vocal timbre is comparable. In the middle highs, the Q is a little more relaxed while I perceive both to sound equal in the upper highs.
When it comes to bass quality, the Q’s is a good bit faster, cleaner and controlled. Also, the AAW has got the higher resolution in the lower frequency range and also sounds quite a bit more detailed in the mids and treble.
The Sennheiser’s soundstage is larger while the AAW’s is cleaner, with the more precise instrument separation.
From what I hear, this shows that the IE 80’s sound quality doesn’t really keep up with its price and that it doesn’t handle averagely fast music that well but is better suiting for slow and intimate recordings. If I had to choose between both for a really bassy signature (IE 80’s screw fully open), I would take the AAW in a heartbeat as it is sonically more capable by a good margin.
Long story short, AAW have created a ridiculously tiny ear canal monitor with a really strong bass that fits well for a noisy portable environment. The technical qualities of this in-ear are strong and the
micro dynamic driver sounds very nimble, fast and controlled, despite the strong elevation in the lows. Only with really fast and low extending recordings, the bass starts to sound somewhat blunt and the mids and treble lose some separation and resolution. If you don’t listen to really fast Electronical or Metal or close the vent, this shouldn’t be a problem though.
So the Q sounds great and with a big bass (note: if you are not looking for a very bassy in-ear, the Q might not be the right choice for you in stock form), and the speed and nimbleness of the used dynamic micro driver really make me wonder what a hybrid in-ear with the same drivers as woofers would sound like.
A few suggestions for improvements at the end for the manufacturer: get rid of the nylon coating, incorporate longer and stronger strain relief at the ear pieces and please also use a differently designed carrying case.
Nonetheless, I really think that AAW should extend their universal fit line with even more models (possibly also universal fit models of their CIEMs), as the Q, which is the first product I ever listened to from them, already offers a really good technical basis and a lot to like, especially if one is out for a strong and forward bass.
All in all with my usual 70% sound for the price/driver type to 30% build/accessories rating, I come to a final conclusion of 3.8125 out of 5 possible stars. If low extending and really fast music affected the mids’ and highs’ fidelity less, it would have been even more.
Pros - Great sound, tiny package and comfortable.
Cons - Requires a good source with enough power to reach all its potiental
IEMs come in all sizes, shapes, and prices. The majority of the time, I prefer custom IEM's. But when I get the chance, I like to branch out and try new and upcoming products, whether custom, universal, or full sized cans. Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW) was kind enough to send me a pair of Q and Nebula Two IEMs for review. This review will cover the Q.
When I get items for review, they usually arrive in retail packaging. I was a bit surprised to discover that the IEMs were a pre-production sample without retail packaging. However, this is a more practical because it saves on shipping. What came in the package was a silver anti-static bag stuffed with the IEMs, which were held in a carrying case, a metal card with a variety of tips, a 3.5mm to 1/4” adapter, and an airline adapter. This is the first time I have seen a case like this, but it works nicely. The IEMs are safely nestled in foam, which sits inside the case with the cord wrapped around it. The case itself came a blue leatherette material with a magnetic fastener.
When I opened the case to look at the IEMs for the first time, I was shocked at their size. I don't have much experience with micro driver IEMs, but these looked very small. You get a tiny silver driver housing, where the tips are larger than the whole IEM. Additionally, the silver housing contains a 6x8.8mm dynamic micro driver that was developed in-house by AAW. The driver has an ultra-thin bio-composite diaphragm. With this design, you get two rings on the membrane. The center ring is the more rigid of the two, and is coupled with a lightweight voice coil that allows for faster movement, which should improve high frequency extensions. The outer ring is softer and more delicate. This allows air to move more freely, which should offer a better bass response. The design allows a wide frequency range, from 10Hz to 40kHz. Note that this is a far wider range than most IEMs. In fact, my Westone ES-60 only reaches 8Hz-20kHz
The cord exits the IEMs at a 90°. You get a full copper cord with nylon strands to add strength. The upper chord is coated with an ultra flexible nylon sleeve. The Y is terminated in a silver cylinder with knurling. This feels like the same stainless steel used for the drivers. The remaining cable is covered with a braided sheath, which ends in a straight, gold-plated 3.5mm single-ended male connector, with the same silver tube with knurling
I used a variety of music in my collection to test these, from classical to rap and hip/hop, contemporary Christian to jazz and metal. For a source, I used my PC, an Ipod Classic 7[sup]th[/sup] gen player (both amped with a Fiio A3, and unamped), a Fiio X1 player, and an Asus TF701 transformer tablet. My preference for earphones and sound signature is slight B-shaped: mids and bass slightly forward from the treble. I have fairly sensitive ears that pick up frequencies from 5000kHz to 18,500 kHz. Excess frequencies in the upper range are usually painful.
It's All About The Bass
The bass through these IEMs is strong and impactful, but it's even better when amped. When I hooked them up straight to my iPod Classic, the bass guitar became muddy and bled into the other instruments. With the amp added, there is better separation and it cleans up the bass. Plugging straight into my Fiio player gave better sound, but it still benefited from the amp. The bass drums were powerful and natural, with good separation. The bass guitar gave distinct notes, with a nice metallic thud on the strings. Synthetic beats were strong and powerful, and when amped, it didn't overpower the other frequencies as it did unamped. There was a real sub-woofer quality with electronic music. Although reaching down to 10Hz, the sub-bass isn't strong. The mid-bass focus was much stronger than the sub-bass, from about 35-100Hz.
Oh Sweet, Sweet Mids!
Mids are where the Qs shine. Amped or unamped, they sound amazing in this range. This was true for male or female vocals, acoustic guitar, jazz, or classical music. Acoustic guitars sound especially natural. You can even hear metallic re-verb as the pick strikes the strings. Vocals are very lush and full, whether female or male. Female vocals are particularly rich and enchanting, while male vocals can be soothing/relaxing, or downright gritty and rough (as in Leslie West's rendition of “House Of The Rising Sun”). It's hard not to smile while listening to these with my signature preference in listening equipment.
Hearing Like A Bat
Treble is a complicated mistress. If there's too much, it's harsh and painful. With too little, music sounds dull, flat, and muddy. The goal is to get the perfect balance, but the problem is that each person is different. With the Qs, AAW tried to find a happy medium. Given my listening preferences, they accomplished this fairly well. Personally, I don't like a flat signature. I like the bass and mids slightly forward, with the treble slightly recessed.
With my unamped Ipod, the highs were fairly rolled off and lacking, even for my taste. But once amped, there was a vast improvement. The highs came back, without being overly harsh and having nice detail and clarity. With the Fiio player unamped, there was a noticeable improvement over the iPod. However, it really shined with a more powerful amp. The cymbals sounded life-like, with amazing re-verb and decay. Treble instruments sounded airy and clean, without sharpness or sibilance. Operatic female vocals were crisp and rich, while never becoming uncomfortable. Overall, I am quite pleased with how the treble was presented.
She Breaks Everything!!
I have not babied these IEMs on bit. In fact, I have been quite rough; even more so than I normally would be. What I discovered is that they are of great build quality. They may look small, delicate, and fragile, but they are actually quite robust and hold up to all sorts of abuse. They have been thrown around, wound up and tucked in my pocket (bare), wrapped around my player and left hanging, and tugged on when they were caught on drawers and other things. I am not afraid of breaking these. In fact, I would not be afraid to give them to my daughter, who is rough on all her gear. Especially her earphones!
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
For the most part, I have found that the source greatly affects the sound of these IEMs. If you have a good source with enough power, you get detailed highs that are not too rolled off, amazing mids that are fast and precise, and a wonderful bass response that is equally impactful, clear, and not sluggish. But if your source is mediocre, you still get outstanding set of micro-driver IEMs for the money. But remember: they have so much more potential. You get big sound out of such a small package. I have learned that my iPod Classic is just a mediocre source.
* To be technical, the Qs are actually inner-canal monitors (ICMs), rather than in-ear monitors (IEMs).
Pros - clean sound, fast bass, balanced tuning, innovative design
Cons - highs can be a bit harsh, subbass rolloff, driver flex
Advanced AcousticWerkes Q: Deceptively Small
The AAW Q is an upcoming IEM from Singaporean company Advanced AcousticWerkes, scheduled for release in the first week of September. It boasts a new "in-canal monitor" type housing, where the entire housing is designed to be mostly within your ear canal. I'm honored to have the opportunity to review the Q, and hope that this review can give some insight on whether the Q is the right IEM for you.
Introduction / Disclaimer
Comparisons to various other IEMs
Disclaimer / Introduction
AAW, a company I’ve had interest in for quite a long time now, has graciously provided a sample for the purposes of this review. I am not affiliated with Advanced AcousticWerkes in any other way; I just love to listen to a variety of sound signatures and report my findings.
What most obviously sets the Q apart from other IEMs is its design. The Q was clearly created with the goal of an extremely compact and tiny form factor, and it is very apparent in the final product. Measuring at a mere 8mm by mm, the housing is by far the smallest I’ve ever seen in any IEM. It utilizes a 6mm dynamic microdriver -- the general belief is that smaller drivers aren’t as technically and sonically capable as their larger counterparts. Let's see if AAW is able to disprove this general belief!
This thing is seriously small -- no, seriously. This is compared to the TFZ Series 5 which I also adore. Accessories
I might not be 100% qualified to speak on packaging an accessories as I'm sure the official retail packaging will be different. The Q comes with:
Tray of tips (3 foam sizes, 3 silicone sizes)
Most of these accessories won't need further explanation, but note that the tips are special in the regards that the bore of the Q is very large. Because of that, silicone tips that come with Q have big nozzles and probably won't play well with other IEMs (nor will tips from other IEMs play well with Q).
Another noteworthy thing was that the tips came on a nice metal tray. The tray is cold-to-the-touch and makes the presentation look great. However, tips aren't very secure on the tray so that's that.
The carrying case of the Q is seeming made of a blue faux-leather, and a foam core that cables can wrap around. It's actually pretty neat, but takes a little time to put the Q away in. The trick is to put the IEMs and 3.5mm jack into the slots first, THEN wrap the cables around the case. I had no issues with the case!
The 3.5mm jack, the y-splitter, and housings all have this luxurious satin-finish that screams quality. But the short strain reliefs might be a worry for some users.
The Q was a bit controversial for me at one point. The finely-machined and seemingly unibody IEMs screamed sturdiness, and didn't see to have any downfalls. But at the $199 asking price, I would expect something like detachable cables simply for the user's peace of mind. Turns out that this would be very difficult/impossible to implement in a housing of this size, so I was able to forgive that.
However, I still felt that the cable's connection point to the housing would lead to the eventual death of the Q. It didn't seem to have any significant strain relief on the connector, which worried me quite a bit (especially at the $199 price point). I contacted AAW expressing my concerns and thankfully it seems they've thought out the options for cable protection.
This is their response:
So instead of the standard strain-reliefs you might see on IEMs, the Q seemingly has en embedded strain-relief that's inside the housing. It's innovative thinking on their part, and I hope that it is able to withstand daily use. Only time will tell in this case!
Here's an image of the embedded strain-relief -- note the L and R indicators are actually made of soft rubber-TPU as well, with density similar to a car-tire. It should go pretty deep inside the housing and protect the cable from excessive strain:
It seems very solid as a whole, but I tend to treat it delicately either way. For now, I can't say much -- I will update this review with time and see what happens.
Update: One issue I also noted was that there's a bit of driver flex that you'll notice when trying to push it deeper into your ear canal. As long as this doesn't damage the IEM it doesn't bother me, but know that you may hear some crackling / deforming of the driver when pushing it in your ear.
My preferred signature is usually a balanced sound with a slight emphasis in the bass and good treble extension. I would say that I listen to the music more than the equipment -- I don't want to pay too close attention, I want to get lost in the music. In other words, I am not a critical listener. Since I found that the Q sounded best to my ears with the included foam tips, I'll be describing the sound as I hear it with these specific tips: more on that later.
Bass extends low and is audible down below 20 hz, but I feel a very slight roll-off beginning at the lower midbass. In other words, the subbass is not too strong but still clearly detectable -- it simply sounds ‘ordinary’. The overall bass response actually feels impressively fast for a dynamic driver, almost bordering the speed of balanced armature IEMs! -- this may be attributed to the size of the driver. The result is a pretty tight and controlled bass, with a little more impact than rumble; decay is exceptionally quick. Impact is just slightly above neutral, and is actually adequate for my tastes. It will definitely not satisfy bassheads, but sometimes the sense of control the Q gives is greatly appreciated.
For the most part, the mids are only slightly behind the bass and treble in terms of quantity. Vocals are neither too thick, nor too thin with foam tips -- it strikes a balance that feels just right. The Q impressed me with vocal isolation; there’s rarely any confusion with the upper bass. Male vocals are very clean, surprisingly free of bass bleeding into the lower-mids. This was something I really liked! However, there is slight forwardness to the upper mids that can make some female vocals and instruments sound piercing/harsh. When it's not sibilant, it sounds great with female vocals. This sibilance only really rears its ugly head at very high volumes though.
I found that the upper mids/lower treble was indeed harsher with silicone tips. Foam tips audibly lowered the harshness of that frequency, and also gave the mids a little more body to make male vocals feel fuller. I wholeheartedly prefer the foam tips to the silicone tips, though they are kind of a tire to put on the Q.
Treble is impressive. I was not expecting this level of extension from the Q! Apart from that slight sibilance between the upper mids and lower treble, the rest of it seems pretty tame and surprisingly well extended. Unlike some IEMs I've heard, the treble does a good job at creating a sense of air to the sound. It doesn't sound too closed in or suffocating. I would not be surprised if some felt that the treble was too forward for their preferences, as it seems only slightly greater in quantity than the midrange. As a result, it's very detailed and can sometimes give a sense of being too sterile for some tracks.
Again, foam tips seemed to help reduce the quantity by a slight amount -- perfect for my musical tastes.
I don't feel too qualified to talk about the psychoacoustics like soundstage and stuff, but the Q doesn't seem to excel in terms of spacial imaging. This might be an attribute to the housing size. Instruments can sometimes feel compressed into your head, but separation remains good in terms of cleanliness and order. In other words, soundstage is relatively small (even for an IEM). This doesn't bother me so much however.
The overall sound of the Q is really great for an IEM, let alone a 6mm driver -- I would not have any qualms with the sound even from a larger IEM. It's true that the lowest lows of bass might not be the best on the Q, but the midbass is good in quantity and mids are of excellent quality. The treble has some slight quirks such as occasional sibilance, but this comes as the price of extension. Though bass and treble can feel a little emphasized at times, I don't want to go as far as to say that the Q is v-shaped -- it isn't. It's surprisingly balanced and sounds very clean overall.
When it comes to my style of comparisons, I tend to make a list of obvious bullet points that characterize the sound of the IEM. I feel that this is helpful to those who are looking for a reference point of the IEM’s sound, compared to something that they may have already heard. However, I don't own all these IEMs at the moment/have them on hand so I won't go into detail about the small differences.
Mee M6 Pro ($50): The M6 Pro has more bass quantity, similar mids, and also suffers from sibilance at higher volumes. However, treble overall is peakier than the Q. Bass quantity is greater but seemingly slower. M6 Pro has detachable cables and very sturdy build quality, but is also very affordable at $50. Q should have good build quality as well, but only time will tell as cables are fixed.
TFZ Series 5 ($80): One of my all-time favorite IEMs for the price. The TFZ Series 5 has a lot more bass and subbass, lusher mids, and a rolled off treble. Q excels in a cleaner sound, it's not warm like the TFZ. The Q also has much better treble and overall detail, but less subbass presence. Both unfortunately have fixed cables, but they seem similar in terms of build quality. TFZ has a more 'musical' quality to it, while Q has a more 'clinical' quality.
Audio Technica ATH-IM02 ($150): The IM02 is very picky with its source, the Q is not so picky. The IM02 hisses much more out of a phone output, the Q is barely audible. However, the IM02 has a better, more natural mid-presentation IMO but a little less bass quantity. Both are detail monsters but the IM02 edges the Q out in this category by just a bit. IM02 is much more revealing of poor recording.
Mee Pinnacle P1 ($199): Kind of opposite sounds -- I felt the P1 was on the warmer more laid-back side, with similar bass quantity, coherent mids, but less treble energy. The Q seems to be more aggressive and bright, though it brings a bit of sibilance with it. P1 build quality is world-class and comes with detachable cables, I think probably better construction than Q overall. But Q's purpose is to be extremely small at these costs.
Oriveti Primacy ($299): Also, like the P1, opposite sound from the Q. More bass and subbass quantity, fuller/lusher mids, but relaxed treble. Q feels more in your face and heavier in the treble, but also feels a little more detailed. Unlike the P1, Primacy's highs don't really lack that energy that makes music exciting. Build is great as well.
Alclair RSM ($649): Custom IEM. Surprisingly slow bass for a balanced-armature model, warmer mids, and less treble extension compared to Q. AAW Q feels cleaner overall but someone who is looking for a warmer sound might like RSM better. Of course, price is quite a bit higher as it is a custom but it's not fair to compare value in this case. Q feels more detailed in the high end, but more prone to sibilance and harshness.
Vibro Labs ARIA ($599): Aria has a warmer overall tone, but is not very coherent when compared to the Q. Aria, in comparison, has more bass quantity/detail, and superior subbass. Aria has a deep trench in the lower mids that rises back up into the upper mids, very strange kind of tuning IMO. The Q outperforms Aria in most sound respects other than bass.
Shure SE846 ($999): Had a brief listening from this one but was straight out of my phone output, as usual. Much, much more bass quantity than the Q, much thicker/fuller mids than Q, more neutral treble presentation but rolls off earlier. Experience with 846 is too brief to say much more.
Unique Melody Miracle ($1049): [pending]
The AAW Q is impressive in the innovative design, and it's very interesting to see this attempt at creating an extremely small IEM. Design is a great conversation starter as well ("Dude, look how tiny my earphones are!"). Surprisingly, the Q's 6mm microdriver sounds great for its size and probably outperforms many larger drivers as well. The Q's overall signature is close to neutral / balanced, apart from the bump in the upper mids / low treble. If you don't mind a bit of treble emphasis to your music, you will find the Q to be a great addition to your IEM collection. It seems that tip selection does create a large impact on the overall experience of the Q's treble as well as midrange. However, if you prefer a more relaxed treble and you're sensitive to high frequencies you may have to pass on this one. The fitment is fantastic as it seems to disappear within your ear, practically invisible from the front and side. Isolation is a resounding 'meh'. Build quality seems passable as well, but only time will tell when it comes to that.
I do like the slightly emphasized midbass tuning, but highs were a little too piercing for my ears -- using the foam tips helped considerably, and also added some thickness to the lower mids.
Accessories: 4.8/5 - Seems complete, but official retail packaging may be different
Build Quality: 4.5/5 - If AAW's strain-relief system works well, it'll be great.
Sound Quality: 4.0/5 - Treble is a little hot.
Pros - Form factor - Smooth Midrange - Such comfort
Cons - Limited strain relief - Foam eartips expand way too quickly
Today we are going to be looking at the most spectacularly teensy, tiny little earphone ever to grace my ears, the Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW) Q.
AAW is a Singapore based company best known for their comprehensive lineup of custom in ear monitors which you can check out here. Their customs range from a single dynamic to their flagship 5way hybrid and certainly provide some variety.
AAW is going all out this year with three new universal models; the Nebula One, Nebula Two hybrid, and what we are looking at today, the Q. The Q is a unique product in the micro-driver world because unlike most, it's not an in-ear monitor (IEM). It's an in-canal monitor (ICM) made possible by an exceptionally minute footprint. What this downsizing results in is an earphone that once inserted leaves around 70% of the body inside your canal. For me that number is possibly a little higher as you will see in images later on.
I definitely recommend checking out AAW's brochure for the Q if you have a moment since it explains the tech in more detail.
I would like to thank Le and AAW for providing the Q in exchange for a fair and impartial review. I simply had to put up 15 SGD to help with shipping costs to Canada. Another thanks to Kevin at AAW for hooking me up with some images of what to expect in regards to packaging for the final retail product. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review and all comments and views within are my honest opinions. They are not representative of AAW or any other entity.
The Q is planned for release in the first week of September at a price of 199 USD.
A Little About Me:
Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI's multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I've had the opportunity to write about some great products from outstanding companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don't do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I'll consider that a job well done.
The gear I use for testing is composed of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. An XDuoo X3 (shout out to my cousin Rob!) has recently been added to the crew, and was used for the majority of my testing. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to signature preference I tend to lean towards aggressive and energetic, but I try not to limit myself to one signature only. I also tend to listen at lower than average volumes.
Enough preamble. Let us dive into the good stuff shall we?
Packaging and Accessories:
My Q did not arrive with any retail packaging. It along with it's accessories and relevant documentation were simply placed in a quality ziplock-style bag. Please see the following images for what to expect from the Q's packaging when it is released.
Included with the Q is a number of really nice accessories such as a 1/4" adapter, a flight adapter, a magnetic cable clip, and six pairs of eartips held by an upscale looking metal plate, three of which are silicone tips in s/m/l specially designed to accommodate the Q's larger than standard nozzle size.
The other three tips are foam, also in s/m/l. That's the first time I've comes across the inclusion of foams tips in multiple sizes. Very thoughtful as most earphones that include foam tips come with mediums only. While their inclusion is fantastic, the foam tips expanded a little to quickly for me to make effective use of them. This is a similar issue I had with the foam tips that came with my VSonic VSD3.
The final accessory is a carrying case. The exterior is made from from a dyed blue leather, but it feels more like durable pleather. The case clips shut via a magnetic flap. The interior is constructed from a stiff foam cutout. Initial use of the case is for display purposes, as there is a foam insert used to show off the Q. To make proper use of the case you simply remove the foam insert and that's where the earphones sit. A clever design and I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into it, even if it might not be 100% ideal. A more traditional case would probably offer more consistent protection and be more pocketable.
Three documents are also included; a user guide, your warranty card, and a product overview guide. This final guide seems to contain the same information found in the brochure linked above.
Build, Design, Comfort, Isolation:
We have already established the Q is very, very small. Does this mean they're fragile? I don't think so.
While trying to treat them nicely during the review period I managed to catch and snag them on things over and over. It was driving me nuts because normally I'm not this clumsy. I thought maybe it was due to an overly long cable, but nope, pretty standard there. Despite my incompetence these survived some severe tugs and pulls. Though they seem light and dainty, I'm pretty confident in their ability to take a beating.
The housings are made of stainless steel and at 8.8mm in length and 6mm in diameter are not large. Neither are they heavy. Far from it actually, weighing in at less than 1 gram per side. They have a wonderful machined finish to them and while the design is very simple and somewhat plain, I find them smartly attractive.
The cable is made of a tightly wound cloth below the y-split and rubber above, very similar in quality to the cable found on the Dunu Titan 1. This is a good thing as I normally detest cloth cables due to the microphonics (cable noise). With the Q this is kept pleasantly in check despite the majority of the housing being directly in your ear canal. Microphonics are definitely still there and probably unavoidable, but it's not as thundering as I was expecting given the design and form factor. Wearing the cable over-ear is recommended since it cuts noise greatly.
The cable enters the bottom rear of the each housing at a 90 degree angle. There isn't much strain relief there which is somewhat of a concern since the cable presses against your outer ear once the Q is in your ear canal. Strain relief down the rest of the cable is similarly minimal but is thankfully more substantial, protruding from the bottom half of the y-split and entering the straight jack. The y-split and jack are also stainless steel with cleanly cut knurling giving you excellent grip if needed. The cable also features the cutest little chin slider that breaks away on one side. I never felt the need to use it, but in a quick testing session it stayed in place just fine.
When it comes to isolation, the Q won't win any awards. It isolates like your average dynamic driver, maybe even a little less. However, with music playing at even at my typically low volumes, isolation seems to improve enough to make them quite usable in reasonably noisy areas.
Comfort is just as outstanding as I was hoping it would be. The lack of weight, small housing size, and light cable means you never have to worry about tugging, pulling, odd angles, etc. They bring plug and play to the earphone market. That said, since the nozzle is thicker than average I'll have to give my usual warning for tip-mounted micro-drivers; they might be too thick for those with small ear canals; a bummer because otherwise these things disappear.
*Tips: When it came to tips, I stuck with the pre-installed stock mediums for the majority of my listening, especially early on. They fit perfectly, gave me an amazing seal, and there really wasn't any incentive to change them out. Eventually I tried out JVC's FXD/FXH tips and found I had a tough time getting a proper seal. The stock foams I just couldn't get to work. They expanded way to quickly. Finally I gave the Huawei Honor tips I use on JVC's HA-FXH30 a whirl. Yes! We have a winner. The wide bore made the Q a little brighter and more airy. Mid-bass was reduced slightly letting the sub-bass come forward a touch. If you like the Q's mellow stock sound, stick with the stock tips. If you want them to be a touch brighter and more lively, find a set of wide bore tips that fit.
* Amping: The Q is a micro-driver through and through, meaning it likes some additional encouragement to reach their full potential. I found amping made them more agile and brought out their upper end a fair bit. Unamped I found their treble presentation somewhat dull. Amping gave them more presence and sparkle offering up a more pleasant and well-rounded listening experience. Straight out of a smartphone they sound okay, but amping is preferred in my opinion.
I really didn't know what to expect when I first laid eyes on the Q. Micro-drivers are my forte, but the Q was so much smaller than anything I'd used before. The whole driver and housing unit is around the same size as the tip section of the Yamaha EPH-100, or about the size of your standard medium ear tip. That's pretty small. I tossed them in for my first listen and was treated to a warm, smooth, musical signature that sounded much more grand than you would expect from a driver crammed into a housing hardly larger then the driver itself.
After more the 60 hours of listening, I can safely say that this is not an analytic, overly detailed earphone. What they are is a fairly balanced and neutral sounding product with a welcome and polite boost to their bass. They somewhat remind me of a cross between the Havi B3 Pro 1 and Brainwavz S5; B3-ish treble and midrange with S5 bass presentation (not quantity). Soundstage falls somewhere between the two, but with depth greater than both.
Treble on the Q is fairly mellow and inoffensive. Unamped and with the stock tips they sounded a little dry and dull, sapping the air out of the soundstage. Adding in a amp definitely livened them up, and swapping over to wide bore tips improved them even further. With my ideal setup (XDuoo X3/NX1/Huawei Honor tips) the Q offers up good detail and clarity but if you primarily listen to balanced armature earphones or dynamic drivers with a strong treble emphasis, these might come across as lacking. What I enjoy most about their treble is how tight the presentation is. It never comes across as thin or sharp, but focused.
The midrange on the Q is certainly one of their great strengths. Its expertly balanced within the rest of the signature. Vocals have just the right amount of presence and clarity and are never overshadowed by overly energetic treble or boomy, invasive bass. Both male and female vocals sound fantastic, making it hard to decide which I like more. The dynamic duo of Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic under the guise of Hail Mary Mallon is captured perfectly. Aesop's unique drone and complicated lyrics and Rob's aggressive, stilted delivery battling through 12 tracks of grimy hip hop is a joy. The Q captures and replicates the three very unique vocal styles of Jessie J., Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj on Bang Bang. I often find that if an earphone handles Jessie J. well, Nicki Minaj sounds robotic and unnatural. Not the case with the Q. Sarah Jay on Massive Attack's 'Dissolved Girl' sounds forward, breathy, and intimate, just as it should. Guitars have the presence and impact to deliver on the soul and passion heard in solos on classics like Lyndard Skynard's 'Free Bird' or Peter Frampton's live rendition of 'Do You Feel Like I Do', though the Q doesn't have the speed and separation to master metal tracks like JVC's FXH30 can.
The Q puts more focus on mid- than sub-bass; not unexpected from a micro-driver. It is not so skewed towards mid-bass so as to have a negative impact on the listening experience, and in this case I think many would find the balanced achieved a positive thing. Given my preferences for stupid levels of sub-bass rumble, I obviously would like more sub-bass presence but what is there is acceptable. Where I think the Q stumbles a bit is in impact. Their bass has nice texture and realistic decay, but they lack punch and attack and as a result their presentation comes across somewhat soft. This is especially evident on Massive Attack's 'Angel' which has a punchy bass kick running throughout the length of the song. It hits, but without much force. Not bad, but it's not going to get your blood pumping either.
While the Q's soundstage isn't massive, it definitely overshadows my other single micro-driver earphones. Where most have good depth and are somewhat confined elsewhere, the Q manages to offer up a real sense of depth, height, and width, with great imaging and positioning to boot. I was playing Wipeout 2048 on my PS Vita (best game ever by the way) which has amazing sound design. Using the Q, it was easy to determine where opponents were, even on tracks where they were looping above you on alternate paths. I've played that game to death with dozens of earphones. The Q gave me one of the best experiences I've had to date.
Overall the Q is a really nice listen. They offer up a very capable but inoffensive signature. They're not an earphone that immediately wows you with devastating bass or hyper-detail, which is similar to how I feel about the Brainwavz S5. The Q is something that grows with you. You learn to experience and appreciate their nuances and strengths.
Suggestions for Improvement:
It would be nice to see a future tuning turn down the mid-bass a touch and add a sliver more treble energy. I think this would make them slightly more exciting to listen to. This might induce listening fatigue earlier during long listening sessions, but I think the trade off would be worth it.
It might be worth looking into slightly altering the angle at which the cable enters the housing. Around 45 degrees with some strain relief to take the cable weight could be good. This would take pressure off that area once the Q is inserted. It would also give users a little more flexibility with finding the best fit.
When it comes down to it, I really like the Q. The unique form factor captured my attention when I first saw them, and it still makes me smile at how AAW managed to pull out such a solid sound from something the size of an eartip. It's a pretty crazy achievement and I hope other manufacturers stand up and take notice.
AAW has something very unique in the Q and I would love to see them continue to develop and refine the design. With a few tweaks it would be absolutely stellar. For now we will have to settle on them simply being great. Darn eh?
If you are looking for a very compact earphone that also happens to sound great, Advanced AcousticWerkes has you covered..
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
BT - This Binary Universe
Gramatik - The Age of Reason
Hail Mary Mallon - Are You Going to Eat That?
Infected Mushroom - The Legend of the Black Shawarma
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Skindred - Roots Rock Riot
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
The Crystal Method - Tweekend
Aesop Rock - None Shall Pass
The Prodigy - The Day is My Enemy
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Jessie J. - Bang Bang
Lyndard Skynard - Free Bird
Peter Frampton - Do You Feel Like I Do (live)
Pros - Good articulation and retrieval, solid build quality, comfortable even when laying on your side, incredibly small!
Cons - Plastic upper cable, poorly calculated case size, mid-bass is too fat for certain songs
There are some small IEMs, such as the First Harmonic IEB6. Then there are tiny IEMs like the Final Audio F7200. Then there is the Q. It’s so small that it literally is almost impossible to see from most angles when in the ear. While I can’t say I’ve tested every single micro-driver IEM out there, I am very confident that the Q, a very tough stainless steel IEM, is the most well-rounded package out there, and may even the IEM with the smallest footprint around. Seriously. Here is a picture of it on top of a penny.
That’s insanely small! It’s tough, and looks like it’s built to last. AAW really though of everything, memory foam tips aside — something I’ll come back to later in the accessories section.
The Q is not currently for sale, but will be soon. Save the date: The AAW Q goes on sale on August at Null Audio for $199.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this review stated that the Q would be for sale August 1st. This is incorrect, and an error on my part. I offer my apologies to my readers, Null Audio, and AAW.
Disclaimer: This review is based upon a sample unit provided to me by a manufacturer in exchange for my honest opinion and un-edited words. I do not profit in any way from the writing of the review. I would like to thank Null Audio and Advanced AcousticWerks for providing me with this pre-release press unit.
Preference and Bias: Before reading a review, it is worth mentioning that there is no way for a reviewer to objectively pass judgment on the enjoy-ability of a product: such a thing is inherently subjective. Therefore, I find it necessary for you to read and understand what I take a natural liking to and how that might affect my rating of a product.
My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, bass. The mids should be slightly less pronounced than the treble, but still ahead of the bass. I prefer a more bright upper range.
Source: The Q was powered off of a Nexus 6P -> Creative Sound Blaster E3. All music was served as FLAC, ALAC, or as 320Kbps Mp3. I found the standard DAC/Amp inside my phone and PC to be adequate to drive the Q at near-peak levels of quality. However, for consistency’s sake, I’ve chosen to drive the Q off my E3.
-Sound Signature- Treble: Songs used: White Flag, Arise, Outlands
I am a man who likes his treble bright. That being said, the Q did teach me that there is such as a thing as being too bright. When paired with my E3, White Flag's vocals and assorted computer generated sounds were generally unpleasant and sibilant.Thankfully, once paired with a mobile device such as my Nexus 6P or HTC One M8, the treble and upper-mids were much more tame. It sounded like an immediate 5 or 6dB drop on the problem frequencies, keeping them more in line with the rest of the treble. Once tamed, I found the treble to be well balanced with the rest of the song. The treble was pushed slightly forward, edging into the foreground of the song. This allows much more articulation of the highs, decreasing both attack and decay times (which is good)--something many other micro-driver IEMs tend to struggle with.
Arise. Was. Great. When listening to this song, I find that if the headphones I am using do not resolve the high-hats of the song that well, it is very distracting. The Q had no such issues. In contrast to White Flag, the vocals and various audio effects weren’t harsh, but did give the song a more cold feeling than I am used to — a nice change from the wantonly warm sound signatures that I’ve seen in the last few products I’ve reviewed.
Outlands performed similarly well. The violins sounded fantastic, and their timbre was impressive. The Q was able to masterfully layer all the different sections of violin players together, but still keep them separated enough to create a sense of airiness, making the song feel very natural and effortless.
Mids: Songs used: The Drift, Jars, I Am The Highway
The Q made the violins of The Drift sound a little more tame and easy-going. I suspect this is due to the relaxed upper-mids. The deep chugging of trombone synth sounds full, and as natural as I would expect a completely digital sound effect to sound.
The guitars of Jars sound electric. It’s not raw-sounding, like the First Harmonic IEB6, but sounds good nonetheless. Thankfully, the lower-mids blend well into the mid-bass to create a convincing and smooth bass-guitar. The overblown and messy sound that I regularly hear from V-shaped and warm-sounding earphones isn’t present with the Q — a trait I greatly appreciate. The vocals aren’t too forward, and balance well with the song.
I Am The Highway is a rather acoustic song. It’s got many layers to it, a good deal of which live in the same bunch of frequencies — a recipe for lost detail and sound smudging. Thankfully, the Q does not yield. It resolves the vocals and the many guitars admirably. I wasn’t able to notice any smudging in the mids, and found that the guitars were rather analytic in their presentation. The song was a little colder than I was used to, but didn’t irritate my ears.
Bass: Songs used: Lights, Kyoto, 99 Problems (Hugo Cover)
Lights is a song that demands mid-bass in order to sound good. Without it, otherwise engaging choruses turn into faded and paltry offerings, failing to capture the beauty it can offer. Luckily, the Q kicks the habit many micro-driver IEMs have: a lack of bass. I find bass to be served tastefully in terms of both mid and sub-bass. The kick-drum has impact, and is tight.
Kyoto really brought out the Q’s ability to rumble. While not as heavy as the Accutone Pavo or Gemini HD, I find the quantity and quality of sub-bass to be better than what I expect from even a $200 micro-driver IEM.
The Q seems to really enjoy songs that have lots of mid-bass in them. The earphones become very energetic, and never sound stale or flat. 99 Problems sounded fantastic on the Q, beating out many other IEMs I’ve tested. It simply comes down to how well each of the sounds in the song are balanced so well against each other. That being said, the very bodied mid-bass the Q churns out is probably not for the purists out there.
Clarity: Songs used: Throne, Map of The Problimatique, I’m Not Alright
The moment of truth: how well did AAW prepare the Q for chaotic songs like Throne? Long story short, very well. While not perfect, the Q does do well for its tiny size. Layering was very good, providing order to an otherwise crowded sound space. In particular, I enjoyed how well the Q tempered the vocal harmonies that would otherwise distort and smudge up the mids of the song.
Map of The Problimatique was separated well, and remained clear the whole listening session. In particular, the enunciation of each word in the vocals was rather pleasant. However, I did feel that the mid-bass was too strong and clouded up the lower-range of the song; an easy fix with a little equalization.
I’m Not Alright did perform well, but not as well as on IEMs with a drier bass. Detail retrieval and layering was on-point. However, I found the bass guitar to be too far forwards, and generally distracting. That being said, I think that this version of I’m Not Alright is preferable to essentially all the other micro-driver IEMs I’ve heard, as in my mind, the surplus of bass is worth the extra details.
Please note: the Q absolutely loves current. While it sounds good at low volumes, the Q gets its best results at raised volumes.
Male Vocals: Song used: Hotel California, Ashes of Eden, Sunday Bloody Sunday
I really enjoy the vocals of Hotel California on the Q. They are rather smooth, and have a slight sweetness to them. In terms of volume, I find the vocals to be well balanced with the other components of the song.
Ashes of Eden’s vocals were also pleasant. A tad cold, but still sweet and smooth. I find it interesting how AAW managed to capture the smoothness of IEMs such as the Thinksound Rain2, without tuning their IEM warmly.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was reproduced similarly to Ashes of Eden. However, I found it to have the appropriate temperature. At times, the vocals were thin, but not to the point where they would become distracting.
Female Vocals: Songs used: Stupid Girl, Sweet Escape, Need Your Heart
Stupid Girl sounded good. The vocals weren’t colored in any way, and had a lot of detail in them that really captures Garbage’s vocalist’s grungy style. Small intonations that aren’t really present in some other IEMs I’ve tested are audible on the Q.
To be honest, I don’t really have too much to say about the vocals of Sweet Escape — I do think that’s a good thing. If I really had to nitpick, I’d say that at times, the vocals were slightly too bloated.
Need Your Heart was a fun listen. The vocals were lively, but were farther behind the general din of the song than I expected. This made them sound a little too thin — the opposite of the reaction the Q had to Sweet Escape.
Sound Stage is slightly better than what I expected. Unfortunately, there are certain technical limits to how expansive the sound stage of a 6mm driver can be, and the Q does approach them. Layering is fine, but 3D placement of the instruments isn’t too good. Even at its most expansive, the sound stage was narrow, and lacked height or depth.
-Packaging / Unboxing- I wasn’t provided with a retail version of the Q. Therefore, I do not have the final packaging the August 1st units will have. However, I will show you what I received in the mail.
The Q came pre-coiled inside its case.
-Build- Construction Quality
Construction quality is very good. The Q is built from stainless steel, and has a shell that is durable, yet extremely thin. Advanced AcousticWerks has said that the shell is a thin as 200 microns! Based on the incredible lightness of the driver housings, it certainly does feel like it! The cable is covered in a protective cloth from the Y-splitter down to the 3.5mm jack. I like the body the cable has — it doesn’t tangle too easily, and doesn’t get kinked. Above the Y-splitter, the cables are your standard soft-touch plastic. They are thin, but not cheap-feeling. I’m slightly concerned about their longevity, but treating the cables nicely should let them last for a long while.
The cable meets the driver housing via a plastic stress-relief block. It’s embedded into the steel shell, and seems to be solid. I’m not too sure how the block is seated in the shell, but I don’t notice any bulging or separation when moderate pulling force is applied.
Unfortunately, the 3.5mm jack isn’t 45 or 90 degree angled. However, the problem is slightly mitigated by he malleable qualities of the cloth cable. The jack housing itself is also made from polished steel and seems sturdy. I give the Q very high marks in terms of build quality; It’s not quite RHA level, but satisfactory even given the somewhat high price tag.
This was a main focus point of mine. Sure, it sounds pretty good and is really small, but what’s the point if it isn’t comfy to wear? I won’t drag this on: it’s comfortable, even when sleeping on my side. The small shell and thin profile lets you get a pretty deep insertion, even with the standard silicone tips. The Q is so light, I don’t notice it when I’m listening to music.
The Q does not feature inline controls.
The Q comes well stocked with accessories. There is a 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch adapter, an airplane adapter, a leather shirt clip, and five alternate eartips, two of which are memory foam. The thing is, the memory foam eartips are super difficult to get onto the Q. Maybe it’s due to my incompetence, but it could very well be due to AAW choosing the wrong-sized diameter the memory foam, and not the silicone.
Update: Null Audio has contacted me, and let me know that the final version of the Q will come with an updated eartip set that addresses the exact problem I’m having.
The case included has a leather exterior, and a soft protective interior made from foam. Strangely enough, the cable is too short to be coiled perfectly around the case. In order to get the 3.5mm jack positioned correctly in the foam, you have to half-coil the cable and double it back around the the case’s base to leave enough slack left. To be honest, it’s a bit of a hassle. For $200, I expect more. I theorize that AAW forgot to take into account the shortening of the cable’s effective length caused by layering it on top of itself when being wrapped around the base. Either way, it still leaves an awkward loop of cable hanging out of the side of the case that is unsightly and prone to catching on stray corners.
-Summary- If you love the idea of super tiny micro-driver IEM capable of pumping out solid midbass and an analytic upper-range, then the Q is for you. However, if you are unable to forgive the slight fit-and-finish errors made by AAW in the treble and accessory department, you may wish to look elsewhere. I, for one, have found the perfect pair of nap-enabled IEMs.