Pros: bass, imaging, price for TOTL, instrument presentation
Cons: smoothness, treble could have more sparkle
Scientific articles always start with an abstract, a brief summary of the content of the article. If I would have to write an abstract for this review, it would be this:
. Holy cow, somebody call the Guinness book of records, I think I just wrote the worlds shortest abstract - word count 0. Dat bass.. The musical moderator of rhythm and pace, what’s not to love? And with the W500, there’s a whole lot to love.
Every purchase starts with a story, and this one begins with Jelt2359’s “Fit For A Bat” flagship comparisons, where he compared 8 TOTL ciems: the JH13, LBD4.2, K10, A12, CT6E, 5-way ultimate, Harmony 8 pro, as well as the W500 AHMorph. If you haven’t read those, I strongly urge you to read them before, during or after this review. The big boys were all standing around talking smack about who would win this thing - the Adel A12 with 12 BA’s and new ADEL technology, the TOTL reference monitor SE 5-way Ultimate, and Head-Fi’s local superstar the K10 of course. In the meanwhile the relatively unknown Advanced AcousticWerkes (AAW) W500 sat patiently in the corner with its mouth shut, waiting for the games to begin. Spoiler alert – it ended second, snuggled in nicely between the A12 and SE 5-way ultimate, both costing almost twice as much. Even at second place, the W500 felt like the moral winner due to its affordable price.
I decided to take the plunge and contacted Null Audio. They were very friendly along the way and come highly recommended. Good customer service is not always a given in this industry. I placed my design for a red shell with custom design faceplate and waited anxiously for a couple of weeks.
When it arrived, the W500 and I got off on the wrong foot – repeatedly. It started with the design: I had gambled, and failed. Not AAW’s fault to be clear, I lacked experience with custom prints and didn’t know how it would turn out. No biggie, we live and we learn. Time to fire up some music! Amp up the bass, select an awesome EDM track, and let’s go! *phiiet* *phiiit* *phiiieet* what the hell?? Is this the acclaimed bass I’ve been waiting for!? Turns out it was on its ‘dyanamic driver completely off’ setting, confirming the adjustable settings work. Switching it to its intermediate position fixed that, and its stunning bass revealed itself. But the tonality was still off. I had a beautiful silver 8-strand cable waiting for it, only to learn that the W500 does not take kindly on silver. It has a much more natural tone with copper, so I’ve being using Null Audio’s Vitesse copper 8-strand. But after all of this was remedied and the smoke cleared, I was finally ready to go and was impressed by the instrument size and display within the soundstage – and again - that bass.
Some beautiful examples from the AAW website
Since it’s become known for its great bass, one might automatically assume that it has a ‘fun’ type of V-shaped tuning. But as mentioned in its name, the W500 is engineered for reference tuning – it just happens to have great, hard-hitting bass as well. So its signature is more or less flat across the frequency range. It has a slightly prominent midrange while its treble is not very forward, giving it a more of a relaxed warm tonality; it is not so much intended as a particularly ‘sparkly’ monitor.
The W500’s presentation is detailed, without being detail-oriented. A detail-oriented monitor will present its detail either by an overall brighter sound, or high level of transparency or resolution. The W500 instead presents a high level of detail by being relatively flat across the frequency range, so no specific frequencies repress each other, as well as its imaging. While resolution might not be particularly high, there is a tradeoff for note thickness. Because of the rather thick note impact, instruments have good size. They’re spread out evenly in front of you in a relatively flat half circle; the soundstage is wide, but not as deep – reminiscent of sitting on the front row of the cinema. Just to be clear - it’s not shallow either. Layering is of high quality. The percussions play neatly at the back, fired on by the pounding of the sub-bass, while the vocals are singing neatly in the middle with the guitars laid out before them. Imaging within the soundstage is top notch: instruments are clearly located in space, and the presentation gives a good sense that the instruments are pointing towards you, especially in the extremities (in the width) of the soundstage.
Much has been said and written about the W500’s bass. AAW developed their own 9mm dynamic driver in house, and with great success. The bass is punchy and well defined - rapid bursts hit like a machine gun. In overall quantity the W500 is definitely north from neutral, while staying behind in mid bass quantity of more bassy multi BA iems like the Velvet and Solar. But the sub-bass hits deep.. The mid-bass punch gives the W500 a bit of its warm tonality, which also comes at the slight cost of airiness between the instruments.
The lower midrange sounds thick, and receives warmth from the mid-bass punches which contributes to its full sound and instrument size. In the upper midrange there is a certain brightness – I’m guessing it was either tuned this way to provide more detail, or possibly to give the midrange more clarity to prevent it from sounding dull. While it succeeds in adding more sparkle, it sometimes comes at the cost of smoothness in the presentation resulting in a bit of harshness.
As mentioned, treble is not very forward and based on personal reference can be considered laidback. While it has good extension, treble sparkle and energy is about average and speed is a bit on the slower side. I would summarize it as follows: overall it sounds engaging, without being very energetic.
With its 3 big BA drivers and $370 cheaper price, it might appear as if these 2 iems have very little in common, and besides the Velvet is also a universal. But they share one important commonality: even though it is reference-tuned, the W500 is gaining status as a basshead iem due to its hard-hitting bass. The Velvet in its own right is a true basshead iem. Both have great bass, but due its big BA bass driver the Velvet produces more overall quantity with less control, while the W500 hits harder with more depth and better texture due to the dynamic driver. Their signatures differ dramatically. The Velvet has a pronounced U-shape, with forward treble and laidback mids. While mids are not recessed, instruments and vocals sound relatively distant and small in size compared to the W500. The Velvet however wins on smoothness, resulting in softer tones. Looking at treble their roles reverse: the Velvet has forward, energetic treble compared to the more laidback W500. While the W500’s mids have more clarity, the Velvet’s treble has more sparkle. Translated to music, the Velvet takes a step back for instrument-based music and vocals, but it comes to life with pop, hip hop or rock with energetic fast guitars. Looking specifically at EDM, the Velvet performs better for melody-based music relying on treble, while the W500 might perform better at darker genres like minimal techno or drum and bass. The Velvet is a great deal more forgiving, and its U-shaped signature functions as an EQ by filtering out sound in the midrange, which contributes to a smoother sound with good sense of air and separation between instruments. The W500 is more balanced throughout the frequency range, and therefore produces a greater deal of detail in the midrange. Overall this contributes to the sense of more information being presented.
The RTi2 with two dynamic drivers – again a very different design and signature. While it shares having a dynamic driver for bass with the W500, it shares a U-shaped signature with the Velvet. Due to its dynamic driver, the RTi’s bass has nice texture. It has more overall quantity than the W500, but its mid-bass hump also affects the overall signature more. The upper bass gives instruments as electric guitars good size, but also makes it sounds a bit warm and bassy. The W500’s sub-bass hits harder, but is also cleaner. The RTi2 laidback and less prominent mids than the W500, while having more forward and faster treble. Fast electric guitars have better definition and sound more exciting, but overall the W500 sounds more balanced, with cleaner bass. In comparison the RTi2 has a pronounced U-shape, with its prominent bass and forward treble.
Similar to various other TOTL monitors out there, the Solar utilizes a 10 BA driver design and is priced significantly higher than the W500. It has a clear and natural sound with just a hint of warmth, and a slightly enhanced upper midrange and treble that gives it a beautiful tonality. Its bass is elevated but relatively clean and fast. The W500’s sub-bass hits harder with better texture, while the Solar has more mid-bass presence and overall quantity. Both have a full sounding midrange with great instrument size, but the Solar has a greater resolution, more airiness, clarity and smoothness in the midrange due to its dedicated 4 mid BA drivers. Center vocals on the other hand are presented slightly closer to the listener with the W500. While they match each other for treble energy, the Solar adds more sparkle and smoothness up top. The W500’s imaging is a hair better, giving a better sense of the instruments positioning towards you, while the Solar's soundstage has more depth.
Previous reviews have already mentioned the W500 AHMorph is a very capable monitor competing with TOTL ciems above its pricerange. The in-house designed bass driver is of a high caliber, and positively influences the soundstage and imaging. The W500 has a full sounding and warm midrange, but there is a bit of funkiness going on in the upper midrange. The brighter notes add clarity and liveliness to the presentation. But at times this can come at the slight cost of smoothness as it puts some stress on the tonal presentation. This is a minor issue, but the W500 is sensitive to bad recordings. When faced with lower quality, the slight coloration and brightness in the upper midrange of the W500 can become amplified, resulting in a bit of a metallic and harsh sound while some sibilance can be detected. This also occurs when using silver cables as mentioned in the introduction, resulting in the W500’s stronger preference for smooth copper cables. But rest assured - this is a sidenote and will not be an issue for most, only listeners that prioritize a smooth presentation.
With their changeable hybrid design, AAW have created a reference-tuned iem with impactful yet clean bass that is steadily gaining legendary status. With its allround signature and excellent imaging, it will please a lot of people with a wide variety of music - not in the last part to that addictive bass.
Pros: Thick notes and full bodied presentation, Separation, Comfort, Perfect fit, Rich customization options, Can compete against more expensive monitors
Cons: Coherence, Not very fast in lows and highs
Advanced AcousticWerkes is a custom iem maker from Singapore. They have a wide variety of earphones, such as Meister Line, entry level Muziker Line and W500 AHMorph as a flagship. They also offer universal and non-Morph versions of their flagship as well as reshell/modification service.
They don’t sell monitors directly; we need to contact with their distributors. There are many in Asia and one in Europe, but their most popular distributor is Null Audio, Singapore. The guys in Null Audio were quite responsive to my emails and they usually got back to me in 24 hours. It can be thought that this is a fair replying time by taking the time difference into consideration.
As customization options, AAW offers approximately 45 different colors for main body, as well as some unique faceplate options such as mother of pearl and carbon fiber. I have to say that these options are very rich and impressive. As mechanical options, they offer two different sockets, such as recessed two pin and MMXC.
(The picture is an excerpt from Null Audio website)
Built Quality, Internals and Accessories:
W500 is made by high quality acrylic. The reviewed unit has a crimson red body and carbon fiber faceplate. Canals are slightly on longer side, but it isn’t as long as my SA43 or SE5. The craftsmanship is very good and I have to say that this is one of the most comfortable monitors that I have ever tried; there is no disturbance during long listening sessions. Also, I find its isolation very well, almost on par with my silicone monitors; there is no ventilation hole used for dynamic driver inside.
W500 utilizes 5 ways passive crossover design, 3 main acoustic hoses, 9 mm dynamic driver and 4 balanced armatures. In sum, this is a hybrid in ear monitor. To switch between armatures/dynamic and change low frequency effect, a turning knob is inserted into the inner side of the shell. The knob is tunable with a screwdriver included in the standard package.
(The pictures are excerpt from Null Audio website)
The reviewed monitor has 2 pin-recessed sockets and it comes with a 4-braided version of Null Audio Vitesse Copper cable. Just like my 8-braided version of Vitesse cable, the standard cable of W500 is very flexible and easy to use; also much lighter than 8-braided copper. Null Audio doesn’t sell 4-braided Vitesse cable separately, but I guess they should have many demands for this cable. As accessories, a hard carrying case, a cleaning tool, a soft carrying case and a screwdriver, an aircraft adapter and 3.5mm to 6.3 mm converter is included in the package. Also, there is a special card on which customer name is printed. I would like to say that I find accessories very rich for a standard package.
AAW W500 AHMorph is a warm sounding custom in ear monitor with balanced treble energy. With its tuning knob, we are able to change its dynamic driver effect on the entire spectrum.
The review is based on moderate tune, which is most balanced and suitable one fixed on the yellow point, the best tune in my opinion.
Sub-bass of the W500 is quite powerful even with the moderate tune. The punches hit like a hammer with a good texture. Hitting to depth ability and resolution is quite good, but not the best when compared to my other flagships. On the other hand, sub-bass tone is very natural in accordance with dynamic driver. There is no armature kind of punch here. Additionally W500’s hits come from a large area on the stage by using large headroom. I think that sub-bass quantity and power can be satisfying listeners who want to hear more low frequency on entire spectrum.
Mid-bass is located a bit close to listener with a significant quantity and has a warm tone. Detail level is good, but resolution is not the best. With the effect of its forward notes, this warm tone gives a bit too warm air to whole spectrum and makes the general presentation a bit warmer depending on tracks. Due to the fact that mid-bass has a slightly too forward presentation, the bass room can sometimes be separated from the rest of the spectrum; and this results in lacking of coherence and imaging. Not a big problem, but some listeners may expect a better coherence ability.
In general, W500 has weighty and dynamic midrange presentation. The midrange is located a bit far away from listener, but still intimate. Average note thickness is quite good, but not on par with Spiral Ear SE5. W500 recreates thick notes very well and in a realistic tone, but there is a little problem in creating lower mids’ notes; they remain too thick at times.
Overall tone of the lower and center mids is smooth in accordance with mid-bass’ tone. On the other hand, the forward mid-bass presentation sometimes fills in the mids with a bit too warm air and this may result in creating less airy midrange. Even if there should be slightly more detail and air, the midrange performs with very rich and full notes.
While center and lower mids are smooth, upper mids are more energetic and there is a slight brightness here. This brightness/coloration makes upper mids more detailed, but it adds slight roughness to vocals and instruments’ notes in upper midrange at the same time.
In addition, there is a very clean midrange, but transparency level is not very high and stays behind SA-43 that is my favorites ciem in this section. W500 may be considered as a slightly intimate and rich sounding earphone in its class; the resolution level is good, but not the best among my others.
Treble section of W500 remains within the limits in terms of quantity. Thanks to this balanced quantity, W500 isn’t piercing at all, but alive. In general, it can be thought that treble is slightly more prominent and located a bit more forward compared to midrange.
High frequency tone is not exactly mechanic/metallic, but neither very natural. It sounds with weighty notes, but it doesn’t have a very true tone due to added coloration/slight brightness to treble, in order to make it more impressive. Overall tone is similar to H8P, but W500 is slightly faster and sounds with weightier, thicker and less bright/piercing notes. In treble section, W500 is not very fast, but H8P remains sticky due to slower presentation in comparison.
With its clean high frequency presentation, W500’s extension, treble transparency and detail levels are impressive, but resolution is not that impressive due to low speed in decay/attack.
Soundstage and Separation:
W500 doesn’t have an enormously large stage. It has a wide stage having above-average performance, but with a less impressive depth due to the fact that the background isn’t located very distant. Still, it has a quite good layering ability.
The instrument separation is very good with a very black and stable background. However, it may have some separation problems in fast tracks, due to slightly slow attacks in treble section and low frequency. After all, it is a very impressive separation in total.
As I mentioned above, even if it increases the separation level, there is a coherence problem linked with mid-bass presentation. To fix it, there might be a less separated bass room, which could be tuned as more intimate with the rest of spectrum.
Short Impressions about the other tunes of W500:
Blue Point Tune:
This is the tune, which carries the most prominent low frequency. The most significant changes occur to bass quantity and treble energy. Overall presentation becomes weightier, but it also becomes slightly less airy due to slightly less prominent treble and upper-midrange.
Red Point Tune:
W500 tends to be more neutral and slightly dry, with a less dark/warm presentation. The overall sound becomes airier due to slight change in the bass room, and treble is about to have less coloration. However, notes become slightly lighter and overall presentation becomes less musical. Sub-bass becomes tighter, but slightly looses rumble effect.
AAW W500 vs Spiral Ear SE5 Ref:
In general, SE5 has more forward and intimate presentation, while W500 is slightly warmer sounding earphone overall with the existence of a bit more coloration in upper mid and treble sections.
Note: The comparison is made with W500’s yellow point tune.
Both use large headroom for low frequency region. W500 has more prominent and slightly more natural hits, while SE5’s hitting to depth ability is better in accordance with the location of background. Additionally, SE5 has slightly better texture and control in sub-bass area with a similar rumble effect. While W500 has more mid-bass quantity with more forward presentation; SE5 has slightly laid-back notes with a less warm tone.
SE5 has more forward midrange presentation, with slightly better average note thickness. Both place instruments with similar portions in the stage and recreate thick notes well, but W500 can sometimes sound a bit too thick in comparison. Also, SE5 performs more resolved and transparent, while W500 is cleaner. Both have a rich presentation, but SE5 is closer to performing with true tone. This difference makes SE5 more organic sounding monitor with slightly more emotional vocals.
In upper midrange area, SE5 sounds smoother, while W500 has more detailed presentation with a slightly colored/brighter notes. Due to this presentation difference in upper mids, W500 can tend to sibilance more.
In high frequency, W500 has more prominent and brighter notes, while SE5 is smoother and more forgiving. W500 tonality is neither metallic nor too natural. In comparison, SE5 has a more true tone with better speed and resolution, but W500 is more detailed and its micro detail articulation is better here. Additionally, extension levels are similar and both have coloration in treble section, but W500 has more.
Soundstage and Separation:
As for stage size, W500 has wider stage; SE5 has better stage depth with a slightly better imaging and more distant located background. Both recreate weighty instruments with similar portions; SE5 puts instruments closer to each other, while W500 create more distance between instruments in a wider stage. This results in a slightly congested presentation on SE5 due to difference in stage sizes. On the other hand, W500 puts warmer air between instruments, while SE5 has more neutral one.
Both have impressive and similar instruments separation ability with their stable and black backgrounds. However, SE5 has a slight advantage in fast metal tracks with its better decay/attack ability. Due to too separated mid-bass presentation and bass room of W500, SE5 has better coherence linked with a more realistic perspective. However, both perform behind SA43 in terms of realism.
AAW W500 vs Lear LCM-BD4.2:
As we all know, both of them have a hybrid design. Lear utilizes two 6mm dynamic drivers, while AAW utilizes a single 9mm for low frequency. Isolation is much better on W500, since Lear has a ventilation hole for dynamic drivers. Also, Lear has larger shell, while W500 is more comfortable in terms of fit.
Note: The comparison is made with Lear’s ¾ turned bass knob and W500’s yellow point tune.
Thanks to dynamic drivers, both have a natural/sweet low frequency tone with slightly colored presentation. W500 has more powerful sub-bass with a strong rumble effect, while Lear hits slightly deeper in accordance with its background location. In addition, W500 hits from a larger area on the stage and carries more bodied notes, while Lear’s sub-bass is tighter and better textured in comparison. Both convey emotion and carry air behind hits very well.
Lear has less mid-bass quantity than W500, and locates it laid-back and coherent in comparison. W500 gives more warm air to spectrum in accordance with mid-bass quantity, tone and location, while Lear performs from a slightly neutral perspective in terms of air between instruments. On the other hand, W500 has better mid-bass detail with slightly more resolved notes, but this advantage may be switched to Lear depending on mid-bass quantity in tracks.
Lear midrange is located laid-back with a slight difference, while W500 make us feel more intimate with presentation, in accordance with its note thickness and more bodied notes. Lear sounds significantly thinner, but airier, a bit clearer and articulates details a bit more. In terms of resolution, Lear slightly bests W500, but W500 has a better timbre creation.
On the other hand, W500’s midrange is more dynamic and has a warmer tone and thicker note recreation with a slight smoothness overall. Both don’t have an exact true tone here, but W500 is slightly more natural. Overall transparency level is close; Lear may have an advantage here with its clearer midrange. Both aren’t on par with SE5 in terms of recreation of both thick and thin notes well; W500 may perform too thick at times, Lear may sounds too thin. Overall, average note thickness is better on W500.
W500 has slightly smoother upper midrange with a similar amount of detail. In comparison, Lear sounds a bit brighter and tends to sibilance more, while W500 has weightier and more intimate vocals in accordance with its more bodied notes.
Lear has slightly clearer treble with a bit brighter notes. On the other hand, W500 has smoother and slightly weightier presentation. Both don’t have a true or very natural tone here, but W500 is closer to have natural one. Extensions and detail levels are similar, but Lear is more resolved by a hair. During fast tracks, W500 performs a bit better in terms of speed and equals resolution level with a better instrument separation, while Lear sounds slightly more piercing and messy here.
Soundstage and Separation:
Lear has wider and deeper stage; it locates background slightly more distant than W500 does. Overall presentation is more spacious on Lear, while W500 spreads warmer air over the entire spectrum. This makes Lear to have clearer distances between instruments. In general, Lear gives a clearer picture, while W500 has a bolder/weightier one.
W500 has significantly better separation with its blacker and more stable background. Lear has some stability problems with its background, and it is not black enough to create an impressive separation. On the other hand, the coherence is better on Lear with an easier focusing overall, while W500 equals imaging level with its strong background.
AAW W500 AHMorph has a really unique and promising warm sound signature with its balanced treble energy. In conclusion, its general performance can be highly ranked among TOTL class monitors. Its black background and low frequency naturalness is one of the bests; the craftsmanship and comfort is top notch. Good work AAW!
Note: W500 is priced at 1.054 USD at the time this review is posted.
Here is the link for the additional info about AAW and Null Audio: