Akoustyx R-120 Review:
Akoustyx is a brand-new brand, hailing from San-Jose, California. Their focus is on bringing affordable stage-monitor-styled earphones to the masses. Bands, performers, and audiophiles alike may find something to appreciate within their product lineup. Today, we are taking a look at Akoustyx’s Flagship IEM: the R-120.
You can find the R-120 available on the Akoustyx official website for $169 (on sale!), here
Note that since the R-1 series have identical external construction between its three members, I will be porting parts of my R-110 review into this one. They are still accurate.
About My Preferences: Heads up, I’m a person! As such, these words are my opinion, and they are tinged by my personal preferences. While I try to mitigate this as much as possible during my review process, I’d be lying if I said my biases are completely erased. So for you, my readers, keep this in mind:
- My ideal sound signature would have an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass.
- I have mild treble sensitivity.
LG V40-> earphones
Hidizs AP100 3.5mm out -> FiiO A5 3.5mm out -> earphones
HiFiMAN SuperMini -> earphones
PC optical out -> HiFiMe SPDIF 9018 Sabre DAC 3.5mm out -> earphones
All music was served as MP3 @320Kbps or as FLAC.
- Driver: Knowles Dual-Driver Balanced-Armature
- Impedance: 29 Ω @ 1KHz
- Sensitivity: 109dB
- Freq. Response: 15–22.000Hz
- Cable Length: 1.2M (4.0 ft)
- Microphone: 4mm Omni Directional
The R-120 is a treble-first IEM. Bright in its own right, the R-120 toes the line between bloom-prone and sparkly. Its midrange is mostly neutral, deviating here and there towards being colder and brighter. Its low-end is very BA-ish, resolving most bass-bound details without pushing them very far forwards in the mix.
Treble: Songs used: In One Ear, Midnight City, Outlands, Satisfy, Little One, Show Me How To Live (Live at the Quart Festival)
Treble is an important component of maintaining a highly-textured and dynamic sound signature. It’s no secret to audiophiles, however, that there is certainly such a thing as “too much detail”. This accolade is given to IEMs that simply crank up the treble-knob with concern as to how sharp or unpleasant it will make the sound signature in question. Akoustyx is a freshmen brand aiming to make “detail-first” IEMs, so one would think that this naive approach is what they would take. But they knew better. The R-120 gracefully approaches “too much” treble, always staying below the limit and within the sibilance-free zone. An off-shoot of this self-control in tuning the treble is the R-120’s admirable ability to capture detail in the smallest of fashions: the sliding of fingers along guitar strings, the breath of the vocalist against the mic, the last bit of resonation off of a newly-smacked high-hat.
The R-120 performed well across my suite of treble test-songs. In One Ear’s drum-line and vocals were topped off neatly. Midnight City’s synths were distinct and solid, but not sharp of over-bloomed. Satisfy was… passable, but given its poor mastering that's all I can expect from an IEM targeting a sound signature as treble-forward as the R-120 — the occasional sibilance did make its way through the R-120’s dual-driver crossover. The symphonies of Outlands were layered and airy, never missing a chance to accentuate the flowing harmonies of strings against percussion instruments.
Midrange: Songs used: Flagpole Sitta, Jacked Up, I Am The Highway, Dreams, Too Close, Little Black Submarines
Akoustyx tuned the R-120 to be as neutral as possible without sounding dull and uninviting, postulating that this sonic perspective would be both pleasurable and functional for the aspiring or frugal musician. And as a frugal musician myself, I have to say that they were spot on. The R-120’s portrayal of midrange instrumentation is spot-on for monitoring purposes. It catches pretty much every detail passed to it, missing only the most subtle of components in the busiest songs.
The tone of the electric guitars in Flagpole Sitta is precise and dynamic. I could easily make out the crunch of the overdrive, laid neatly over the strumming of the acoustic guitar in the background. The R-120’s ability to resolve multiple sonic layers at once is quite impressive, as it didn’t even flinch when presented with a myriad of instruments and multiple vocalists. The errupting bridge in Little Black Submarines was a blast to listen to, as the R-120 captured the sudden burst from a quiet and hushed presentation to a loud overdriven chorus.
That said, there is a small rough patch on the crossover right around 6KHz. While it doesn’t generate sibilance or sharpness, it is responsible for the occasional bloom within high-pitched vocals that takes some time to adjust to. A fix for this would go a long way towards making me capable of calling the R-120 a “flawless” IEM.
Bass: Songs used: Moth, Gold Dust, In For The Kill (Skream Remix), War Pigs (Celldweller Remix)
The R-120’s “weakest” point is its ability to produce a high-quantity of bass. This, of course, does not matter to a listener who is seeking absolute balance or a musician looking to use these as a set of monitors. After all, the R-120 can, and does, resolve bass-bound instrumentation with detail and separation. It just doesn’t do so in a loud or aggressive way, something that many listeners who are accustomed to mainstream V-shaped tuning are accustomed to.
But as for the quality of the R-120’s bass, one can’t complain. It reaches far down into the sub-bass spectrum, routinely hitting 20–50Hz drops in the electric-genre’d songs. I’d say that’s more than enough to qualify the R-120 as a “bass-competent” IEM — I’d just refrain from calling it “bassy” or “bass heavy” one.
The R-120’s shells are built ergonomics-first. This means that heavy materials, sharp materials, and oddly-finished materials simply couldn’t make the cut. Akoustyx settled on using a high-quality plastic with a smooth blue-transparent finish.
As far as nozzle’s go, the R-120’s are pretty slim. As they are low in diameter, they will only be compatible with eartips that have low core sizes. The nozzles have a well-defined lip that really helps keep eartips secure and immobile.
For the longest time, I’ve been wondering, quietly and to myself, “why are there no cables with exposed copper that feature in-line controls”? Well, the answer still isn’t clear to me, but Akoustyx’s cable for the R-120 has shown me that at least it isn’t impossible. Sitting on their four-core cable is a tri-button control/mic combo unit. On Android, I’ve confirmed that pause, play, fast-forward, rewind, and mic functionality are all present. You can even trigger Google Assistant! I’ve not been able to confirm any functionality on iOS devices since I don’t own any.
The R-120’s cable is a thing of beauty. It is, as I previously mentioned, made out of four twisted cores. Underneath the clear plastic sheathing lies the high-purity copper that conducts the music to your ears. The cable’s MMCX connectors, Y-splitter, chin slider, and 3.5mm jack, are each housed in a frosted white plastic. You can see some of the wirings underneath each surface. This blend of utilitarianism and traditional aesthetics is refreshingly novel, at least in a form where it is being done correctly. Being given visual access to the wiring of the R-120’s cable, it’s clear to see that it is done well, and with care. I have no longevity concerns for the R-120’s cable, and even if I did, it would matter little — after all, the R-120 features detachable cables. An aftermarket one wouldn’t be too hard to find.
Inside the box you’ll find:
- 1x soft carrying case
- 4x sets of ear-hooks
- 4x sets of silicone eartips
- 1x set of foam eartips
Akoustyx takes great pride in the R1-series’ earhooks. According to their website, the R-1 series earhooks are licensed from a Norwegian company called Freebit. This “ear-interface” technology is well-proven and is used by tons of different companies. These ear-hooks play a key role in keeping the R-120 stable in the ear and make it a viable budget alternative to custom-molded IEMs for listeners who need a high level of security.
The soft carrying case that the R-120 comes with is highly functional. It is large enough to store the R-120 coiled in any way you’d like, so there’s no need to learn a new technique just to use it to keep your IEMs safe. The case features a little zipper compartment for storing some small objects. I use it to keep all my extra eartips and earhooks in one place. Further, it has padded edges and is made out of a shock-absorbent material that dissipates force from drops exceedingly well. So while you could probably toss your R-120 out the second story window in this and have it come out unscathed, I would be weary leaving it in a backpack containing multiple hard, heavy objects. This case’s specialty is not protecting from crushes, but drops.
1: Akoustyx R-110 ($99):
The R-110 has a smoother overall sound signature and a warmer midrange. The R-120 is more resolving and presents a more event upper-midrange, but has a thinner overall body for the instrumentation latched in the lower-midrange when compared to the R-110. They are both quick and resolving and share a somewhat similar treble with the R-120 pulling ahead when resolving complex treble-bound textures or elements in the upper-treble.
2: Earnine EN-120 ($79)
The EN-120 is a very different beast from the R-120. The EN-120 has no bass to speak of; it’s essentially a void in which lower-register sounds fall into with no recourse. That said, I have yet to find an IEM that can rival its ability to produce beautifully cohesive, detailed, and dynamic midrange and treble notation like it can. The R-120, while respectable in its own right, doesn’t fare well when evaluating the quality of tone and timbre in the upper-midrange and treble. That said, The R-120 can do something that the EN-120 can never hope to do: produce an even and consistent tone, detailed and rich, all the way down to 50Hz. So while one might choose the EN-120 if they care exclusively about the midrange and treble of their music, anyone who wants to get the full story, and not just the upper half of it, from their IEMs should be paying closer attention to the R-120.
3: Brainwavz B200($120):
The B200 is a more casually tuned version of the R-120. It has a more prominent lower-end and a warmer midrange. The B200 also features a more prominent treble relative to the midrange. In essence, the B200 is more V-shaped than the R-120 is. This is, of course, natural given their differences in target audiences — The R-120 is for linear listeners/musicians and the B200 is for the consumer who wants clarity and airiness. Either way, the two IEMs clearly excel in their own ways making each of them good buys, just for different types of buyers.
The R-120 is a fitting flagship for Akoustyx. Its sonic performance is down-right impressive and competes extremely well with its peers. Its ergonomics are unrivaled at this price point, as there are no other universal-fit IEMs that can adhere to the ear as neatly and as comfortably as the R-120 can. Combined with its excellent eartips selection and reasonably competent protective case, there are not many reasons to pass on the R-120, assuming you are looking for a linear and neutral IEM.
As always, happy listening!