A lot of interesting stuff from the east, and this time it is by a pilot who loves music making some interesting earbuds under the brand name “Airman”.
The Airman family offers various buds at difference impedance levels – 32, 64, 150, 180 and 400.
The 150, 180 and 400 have a “vented” enclosure, which I understand is a modification to the shell’s inners, and it does wonders for the soundstage.
These earbuds can be exclusively purchased from facebook page of Airman.
Build, fit and packaging
Once you open the outer packaging, you are greeting with a simple transparent, stickered plastic box, within which you have the earbuds and two pair of good quality foams and 2 “Hi-res” stickers. Each case is numbered and mine is No. 011 of the AHE-150 model.
No brownie points for fancy unboxing experience here!
The MMCX plug seem firmly fixed to the buds and should last the distance.
There are no cables included in the box.
While fit is the same as most EMX500 shells, the thing that makes a difference here is the extra length of the shells with the MMCX connector, combined with the plugs in the cable, will almost be touching your cheeks. So, choose a cable that doesn’t have a big plug for the MMCX connector. Chubbier folks might find this an issue.
Foams are critical to get the right sound out of any earbuds and choice of foam have a greater impact on the sound signature. Foams help with seal and can be used to customize the warmth and bass on offer.
– Sounds good but the bass extension is not as deep do to the lack of a good seal. Also, the upper mids are a bit ‘in-your-face’ type and can be tiring.
– The foams included make them too bassy that its intolerable. Also the rest of the frequency range sounds muffled. The included full foams are definitely not be used.
– Same impact as full foams – better avoided.
– The perfect sweet spot – the upper mids are tamed to a good extent while the bass extension is better due to the seal.
I feel the AHE-150 sound their best with thin foams and the rest of the review to follow is compiled with these thin foams.
So how does it sound?
The following combinations were used to evaluate the musicality of these buds (all files were FLACs - 16/44.1, 24/48 and 24/96)
- LG G6 as source playing bit perfect through the UAPP player in USB out mode with the iFi Nano iDSD BL DacAmp.
- Tidal app on my laptop to play bit-perfect thru the iFi Nano BL.
- Foobar2000 on my laptop to play bit-perfect via ASIO thru iFi Nano BL.
The AHE-150 has an impedance of 150 ohm and good sensitivity. Any decent device with a nice amp stage should be able to drive them and they sounds good from my LG G6 directly while using the high impedance mode ES9218P SoC. The iFi has better crosstalk and showcases better channel separation and a wider soundstage, while having a slightly extended bass (compared to the LG G6)
I write this in most of my reviews - the key factor that is to be considered while reading my opinion below is that earbuds may sound different to different individuals based on the shape and size of your ears and how the earbuds fit and how they are positioned and your hearing sensitivity itself.
There is no mention of burn-in by Airman and I have not subjected this earbud to any burn-in. It sounds good straight of the box and has a decent time of at least 25 hours prior to the review. Also, since there are no cabled included with the AHE-150, I used one of my very good quality MMCX cables for the review
Before I start the review, I would like to say that these earbuds are purchased by me with my own money at the MSRP and I received no discount or request from the seller to review them.
Two things catch your attention immediately, when you try the AHE-150. The first thing is the bass – ample, deep and quality bass. Get a good fit and it can feel the lower bass frequency vibrations. Though I have tried a score of earbuds and more, never has any earbud of any shape offered such great bass body – either they lack in quantity when providing great quality or lack in quality while providing boomy, bloated bass. The Moonbuds Bunting was the closest that came to a perfect neutral bass response.
Turn on Bassline Riddim
by Vato Gonzalez
and you will get what I mentioned about the bass – great body, goes deep and packs a good amount of texture. The cello’s timbre is quite satisfying at the beginning of Taska Black’s Leave me
. Continue on the track, there are some nice bass synth lines that the AHE-150 renders exceptionally to excite the inner-basshead within everyone.
Let’s try an acid test with Lorn’s Acid Rain
. The track starts of with nicely weighted and textured bass note. At the 22-second mark, there is an impactful blow of bass, which I can only describe as a sledgehammer blow to the head. The impact is only intensified when an even powerful blow lands at the 41-second mark – I could feel the bass vibration in my bones. However, the vocals are too sharp and hissy and doesn’t give a good listening experience once they set in – the upper mids are a bit sharp and its to blame.
Switch to Sharpness
by Jamie Woon
, the AHE-150, still satisfying bass along with a good vocal presentation. Upper mids are quite energetic. The tiny clicks in the song are rendered well and give a fair idea of the width of the soundstage offered.
That is the second thing that catches attention – the amazingly wide sound stage. Nina Simone’s Feeling Good
is a great example – starts off with a pitch black background and then Nina starts crooning; her vocals have enough warmth and is perfectly positioned – neither too forward nor recessed. Great timbre on the trumpet. The strings and piano playing together at around the 1:20 mark give a fair idea of how wide the soundstage is. This, when combined with the perfectly centered vocals of the singer, give a great perception of the soundstage width. Another track of Nina, I put a spell on you
, again demonstrates the exceptional presentation of the sound stage offered by the Airman AHE-150, while rendering the nostalgic atmosphere of the song quite well.
In fact, most songs of the 70s and 80s that relied on stereo in their presentation are rendered beautifully by the AHE-150. Steely Dan’s Aja
is immensely satisfying on the AHE-150 – good weight and texture on the centered bass guitar, all the tiny details in the upper mids and highs rendered exceptionally well, while presenting a life-like open sound stage. Cymbals have sufficient sparkle to excite the hairs in your ear canal, but the brilliance is lacking slightly. Move on to the 4:45 mark, the AHE-150 shows what it is capable of – good timbre on the saxophone, great texture on the bass guitar, nice sparkle on the cymbals, good weight and decay on the fast drums, well separated piano notes – did I mention that all of these play together on the track? Go past the 7-minute mark and it only gets better. The presentation would have been perfect, if only the levels of brilliance of the cymbals was more satisfying. The only earbud that does better (in my collection, of course) is the Moonbuds Bunting (Did I say only? That’s because the Moonbuds Nightingale that are with me currently, aren’t mine. J). Another immensely enjoyable track on the AHE-150 is The Doors’ Riders on the Storm
Paired with the iFi Nano BL which keep crosstalk minimal, the separation of vocals and various instruments are quite exceptional. Throw a busy track like Way too Long
by Bent Knee
– not a problem for the AHE-150. The tracks starts with nice snare drums and distorted guitar – the AHE-150 renders the energy quite well, but the extra warmth that it offers in the lower frequencies do come in the way of the presentation. This track is best served cold! J That apart, the exceptional singing of Jessica Kion at the 3-minute mark is well separated from the highly energetic instruments. The guitar distortion is, again, well rendered and packs good energy, but the extra warmth offered by the AHE-150 does take away some of the fun. Well, that’s a minor niggle which most may not even notice.
The vocals and guitars on Iktara
by Amit Trivedi
and Tochi Raina
sound exquisite. The guitar notes at the beginning have a satisfying sparkle and are sufficient wide, centering your attention of the vocals. The chorus encompasses the listener quite well and the bass guitar has satisfying weight and texture.
With so many MX500 shell earbuds floating around, the Airman AHE-150 is a breath of fresh air in its unique presentation of music with its excitable bass and vast sound stage. At an attractive price tag of $49, the AHE-150 goes straight to the top of my list of ‘Best earbuds under $50’.
Since it is made by a pilot, will it offer a clearer presentation of the pilot’s announcement on flights? Dream on!